Matthew 2 records for us the story of how Joseph was instructed to take his wife and the child Jesus and flee to Egypt because their lives were in danger. Jesus was a child refugee.
We are in the midst of a horrifying dilemma as we witness the tragedy of families being forced from their homelands and having no place to go and no place to welcome them. Fresh off the recent attacks in Paris our first instinct is the safety and welfare of our own families. Choosing to err on the side of preservation, Congress is being urged to close all borders and Governors are following suit, turning away families literally in mid air before they even land. Even Franklin Graham, son of the famed Rev. Billy Graham and founder of Samaritans Purse, a charity that caters to homeless and the hungry, put out a statement that we must close our borders to anyone who may be Muslim for our own protection. But is this the proper Christian response? The answer to this polarizing question lies within the irrefutable Scriptures, and the answer will not be a popular one.
The children of Israel were refugees. They were led out of bondage, captivity, torture and many of the same circumstances that modern refugees face. While God made their way of escape, He reminded them several times that they should welcome strangers and foreigners as they too were once escapees from captivity and persecution. Exodus 22:21 reads “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner for you too were foreigners in Egypt”. Deuteronomy 10:19 takes it one step further, saying “love those who are foreigners”. There are at least a dozen more Old Testament verses calling on the benevolence and welcoming of foreigners and strangers.
I get it-I’ve read the arguments. “We don’t take care of our own, why should we bring in foreigners?” We have a homeless crisis of our own to contend with. There are thousands of veterans, teens and children living on the streets of our country. But they have always been there, and yet suddenly when faced with a potential threat, they become the face of our stand against further hospitality toward a desperate and hopeless people as if suddenly their plight has a useful purpose. Our historic and current treatment of our own under privileged population can not be used as an intelligent argument to refuse aid to families who have nothing but the clothes they are wearing, just because there may be an evil person among the thousands of helpless families, or because we have failed as a nation to provide for those we encounter every day. Two wrongs, especially in this case, certainly do not make it right.
Another argument I’ve read is that they should all just go back to where they came from.
This is where they came from. This is why they flee. This is why they overload a refugee boat resulting in the drowning deaths of their own children. We all recall the horrendous and heartbreaking image of the three year old little boy’s lifeless body washed up onto the shore. And yet I know it’s still hard to somehow reconcile. What would Jesus have us to do? Well, He actually told us, and made it pretty clear.
In a positive affirmation, Jesus placed a child on His lap and said that anyone who welcomed one of them in His name not only welcomed Him but “the One Who sent Me“. In another passage He reminds us that rue religion is taking care of widows and children. There is no qualifying criteria for whose widows or children. And in Matthew there is a much more damning story of the sheep and goats. You know the story. He addresses those on His left when He says that whoever didn’t feed the hungry or give drink to the thirsty or clothes to the naked, or who didn’t visit the prisoners or welcome the stranger, didn’t do these things for Him as well. Again, try as I might, I can find no qualifying criteria for strangers. Shall we go on?
Jesus also exhorted us in Matthew 5 to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Of course that doesn’t mean that if someone breaks into your home or threatens your family that you should join hands and say “let us pray”. What it does mean is that we are called to love supernaturally, above the expected or explainable conditions, just as Christ did. He said in this way the world would see that we are different. That is perhaps the most difficult task of the Christian experience, especially when faced with uncertain outcome. We can’t find this capacity for love except through Christ and not of ourselves.
There is one other facet to this whole refugee situation that no one has mentioned but that has to be considered by the followers of Christ. We tend to be a patriotic people, proud of our heritage, our ethnicity and our geographical borders. We proudly proclaim our status as Hoosiers or Buckeyes or Americans, etc., which is all fine and well, to a point. However, as believers, we are reminded, in scripture, that we are not citizens of this earth, rather our citizenship is a heavenly one. Christians are not defined by the man-made borders in which they live. One of my favorite classic Christian songs was one by Petra, entitled Not of This World. One stanza says “we are pilgrims in a strange land-we are so far from our homeland-with each passing day it seems so clear, this world will never want us here-we’re not welcomed in this world below-we are foreigners who don’t belong”. Nothing could be more true for the believer. We can’t in the faith claim allegiance or ownership of a bordered land that our souls don’t claim. It is against our core beliefs to do so.
Illegal immigration may be a deciding factor in the upcoming Presidential election. We absolutely have a problem with people crossing the border for more opportunity. But we must be clear in differentiating those looking for economic advantage and those seeking survival. We also must be careful not to add our own qualifiers to Holy Scripture as justification to refuse aid to those who are desperate and hopeless without it. This issue may be a defining moment for the modern church, more so than any previous issue. I have tried to imagine the hopelessness of being a father with a wife and young children, minding my own business, working hard to support my family, and suddenly finding that my home, my business and all my belongings were suddenly destroyed. Now I am forced to flee because the war and violence poses a dangerous and potentially lethal threat to my wife and children. We flee to the nearest country for harbor but are soon deported and ultimately turned away because there is no room or provisions available, much like the night of our Savior’s birth. I have no funds, no food, no shelter and no foreseeable relief. Through no fault of my own I and my family are now unwanted visitors to a cruel world. I’m quite sure that my imagination of their plight pales in comparison to the harsh reality. The very thing that we hold dear, self-preservation is ironically the very same reason they are refugees.
The inscription on the statue of Liberty reads “…give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free-send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. ”
Jesus says “come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened down and I will give you rest.” Are we the hands and feet of Christ or just a safe meme on social media for a Like and an Amen?
There is certainly no easy answer to this crisis, but for believers in Christ, there is only one right one. Father, soften our hearts and give wisdom to our leaders and let us not be found guilty of refusing the least of these when asked how we responded to your children.