God's Word on the Subject

Over the last week, I’ve observed the word-slinging on social media and listened to the callers on our local NPR. To say the comments have been emotionally-charged would be an understatement. There is anger. There is hatred. There is fear.

These feelings are understandable. We watch in disbelief as horror piles upon horror. Innocent lives are extinguished. Our sense of safety is threatened. And as is typical in such situations, we want someone to blame. In this justifiable and righteous anger, it becomes easy to put a particular group of people into an “other” category. As soon as we do this, these “others” become slightly less human. We can more easily say they aren’t our problem, and we can distance ourselves from compassion—because we no longer see them as our fellow human beings, as our brothers and sisters. I could say more on this, but perhaps we should save that for another time.

I would not consider myself versed in politics or public policy. I typically shy away from such conversations. In fact, even as I write, I am second guessing the decision to add my voice to the fray. Let me be clear that I do not want to offer a definitive position on what should be done about the current refugee crisis. To be honest, I don’t know that I have a definitive opinion yet, largely because I think this entire issue is much more complex than we typically present it.

Please understand that much of what I’m about to say is inherently connected to our faith as Christians. If you do not consider yourself a part of that category, I think some issues of politics can become less complex, as they typically become tied to your own political and social perspective.

But for those of us who claim to follow Christ, we must be cautious that we don’t get swept up in a political ideology without considering what Scripture might have to say (and this applies to much more than simply the refugee crisis). As soon as we group a particular political party or position with our Christian faith, we have made a great compromise indeed. Likewise, as soon as we follow the “party line” before consulting what God says about the matter, we place our highest allegiance—and sometimes even the definition of our faith—with a particular political party. Our views on public policy and political decisions should be shaped first by our understandings of Scripture—and only then by our particular political leanings. This reality—that Scripture and our faith should shape our views of culture and politics and not the other way around—makes issues of where we stand on particular concerns much more complex, in my experience at least.

I understand the fear and the perceived risks of allowing Syrian refugees into our country. I will not downplay this understandable response, particularly as we continue to learn more about the tragic attacks in Paris this past weekend. I also understand that we may have differing views of the role government should play in our society. But if we believe that our faith and our understanding of God’s directions for living supersede our emotions and our politics, we must focus first on His Word before arriving to any entrenched opinions and their ensuing social media bloodbath.

I think of verses such as these:

Do no neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.   – Hebrews 13:2

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.  He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.  And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.   – Deuteronomy 10: 17-19

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God. . . . 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: 9-10, 33-34

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me . . .’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? . . .’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’    – Matthew 25:46

I think of Jacob and his sons, who went to Egypt as refugees because of famine in their homeland, and dwelt there for generations as foreigners. And I think of their Israelite descendents, who fled the violence and oppression of Egypt to find a land of their own.

I think of Ruth, who was welcomed as a Moabite refugee, and who became the great-grandmother of King David and one of only four women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.

I think of Joseph and Mary, with their infant son Jesus, who became refugees in Egypt to escape the murderous rage of King Herod.

Before we jump to conclusions, let us remember that our Savior himself was for a season of his earthly life a refugee. Let us remember that our God cares deeply for those who are oppressed, harassed, those with no home. Let us remember that our God extended extreme and risky “hospitality” toward us when he offered His Son as a sacrifice to bring us into His family.

I will leave it to you to wrestle through these considerations and what particular policies or decisions should result. What I will say definitively is this: if there isn’t a tension for us as Christians, if we aren’t wrestling with these pieces of Scripture, if we aren’t considering God’s heart, then we are missing something essential—we are missing God’s Word on the subject.