Does a Christian have to support the acceptance of refugees in America? I was left with this question last week as a number of my Christian friends took to Facebook to make their cases both for and against the President’s executive order on refugees and a number of evangelical bloggers weighed in as well. The refrain I heard the most was the belief that biblical values should lead the Christian to oppose any ban on refugees and instead welcome them in with open arms. But is that what the Bible would have us believe?
Before we weigh that claim, here’s a quick refresher (as I understand it) if you’re out of the loop on any of the details. On January 30, President Trump signed an executive order that effectively put a 120 day ban on new refugees, a 90 day ban on travel from 7 primarily Muslim nations (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) and an indefinite ban on refugees from war-torn Syria. Despite common usage of the term, and though the majority of those affected are Muslim, it is not a ban on Muslims. The order may end up not sticking, as it is currently working its way through the courts with judges giving decisions and appeals being made.
The Christian case for accepting them
This contingency starts on the foundation that God calls us to love people, and that particularly applies to loving those who are in times of great need. In the Old Law, God made the statement a number of times that He wanted His people to treat foreigners well (see Leviticus 19:33-34 and Deuteronomy 10:18-19 for a couple of examples). In Leviticus 19:9-10, He even commanded them to leave the edges of their field for the poor and “the stranger” to harvest. So, with these people so desperately in need, they ask, shouldn’t Christians be the first to step up and advocate for helping them out?
Additionally, those who make this case answer concerns over safety by pointing out that worries over terrorism are greatly exaggerated and that fear should not be what drives the Christian when help is needed.
The Christian case against accepting them
This side argues that the other is not taking safety matters seriously enough. They believe that the terror concerns are greater than the other side claims, and they also point to the rampant sexual assault in refugee-heavy countries like Germany to say that we would be endangering too many people here. Psalm 82:4 tells us that God wants us to “Deliver the poor and needy; Free them from the hand of the wicked.” Those who fall on this side make the case that delivering one group (refugees) from the wicked by delivering another group (Americans) over to the wicked makes no sense. If you save thousands of foreigners from a bad situation but have to trade the safety of thousands of women and children, have you done something good? Kevin DeYoung made this point in a Gospel Coalition post, saying “Christian charity means loving the safety of the neighbor next door at least as much as loving the safe passage of the neighbor far away.”
They also claim that we already have enough hungry and homeless people around us who need help and that we should be caring for them first before bringing anyone else to America.
I genuinely feel that a Christian can hold either belief without it being a mark against them. Wanting to bring refugees here to feed, clothe, and shelter them is a noble, Christ-like goal, but that doesn’t make it unChrist-like to want to keep the people (particularly women and children) around us from harm. And, regardless of which position you hold, it matters very little since the government will make the decisions anyway and we’ll be forced to live with the result, one way or another. So why discuss it? Why does it matter if you can believe either way?
It matters because this issue shines a light on our hearts. One can hold a right belief with a completely wrong heart, and that’s what stood out to me the most in studying the issue. No matter what belief we hold, we need to abide by these 4 principles.
Have a soft heart
Vilifying all of the people who want to come into this country as terrorists who want to kill us is woefully incorrect, and it keeps us from caring about them. Even if they all were our enemies, we’d be called to love them and pray for them (Matt. 5:44). But the reality is that most of them are simply people living out every person’s worst nightmares. Suffering the loss of loved ones, driven from their homes, separated from their family members, hungry, without proper medical care… these people need love and understanding. To act like Jesus is to love them and have hearts full of compassion and care when we see a fellow human experiencing such pain and loss. Whether you think they should be brought here for care or supported where they are, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31), and these are people in need of good Samaritans willing to love their neighbors.
In a different vein – have a soft heart toward those with whom you disagree. The Christian who wants refugees here isn’t doing it because he or she doesn’t care about your safety, and the Christian who doesn’t want them here isn’t doing it because they’re heartless. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Do not operate out of fear
Whichever belief a Christian holds about the refugees, it must not be one held out of fear. No matter what happens, God is in control. Government is His minister and He uses it to accomplish His will. In Acts 17:26-27, Paul said that God “has determined [man’s] preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings.” Just a few verses later in Acts 18:2, in a seemingly insignificant line we find that Paul met Acquila and Priscilla – two of his closest friends in ministry – solely because Claudius had made a decree driving all Jews out of Rome. If He places a family of refugees right next door to you, it’s because He wants them there. Don’t be afraid, He is in control.
Pray for the refugee
It’s an obvious one, but it’s one we often forget. Pray for the displaced. Pray for those caught in the midst of war. Pray for our Christian brethren who are suffering through this, and pray for the Muslims and those of other beliefs that their hearts would be opened to believing the Gospel (as a number reportedly already have). The best thing we can do for them is take them before the Father, and in so doing it will keep them in our hearts and minds regularly as well.
Love the people around you
If we’re going to give “We already have enough people here who need help” as a reason to keep refugees out, let’s make sure we’re using that as a rallying call to help such people rather than an excuse to brush away the issue, only to be forgotten again immediately. Whether we end up with refugees in our communities is up to God and the government, but no matter what happens, we can always find someone to help. In Matthew 25, Jesus took helping the downtrodden pretty seriously, promising to disown those who don’t help “the least of these.” When we do help them, we model the Gospel by sharing God’s love with the troubled and the hopeless in a physical sense, which just may open the door for us to help them in a spiritual sense.
The refugee executive order is a difficult, complicated issue, but it doesn’t have to be a divisive one. Good, honest, Christian brethren can come down on either side of the issue, but we should first make sure our beliefs come from a right heart that is in line with the Gospel.
By Jack Wilkie