Refugee Q and A (2)
Last time I shared answers to two questions Brad and I have been asked since we started our Christmas series entitled, “Refugee”. I’m writing this blog because our Christmas series, while tackling the refugee reality deeply rooted in the Christmas story, doesn’t tackle a number of the themes being discussed in Washington, on our TV screens, around our kitchen tables, in our bible study classes, small groups, coffee shops and on our school and college campuses.
The series has triggered a number of assumptions, assertions, and questions for which Christians are seeking Biblical guidance. Be warned. We aren’t politicians or social anthropologists. We just love the Bible. So with every question we’ve had we’ve tried to go to the Bible in the hopes that it offers folks a framework upon which to formulate a considered response.
Today’s questions are fairly tricky. Brad and I know that there are no easy solutions to what we see happening in our world. There is no quick fix to this refugee crisis. There does however, need to be a biblically informed response to every issue connected to it. It’s a tall task this, done with some degree of trepidation.
Read away, and, as with last time, feel free to message Brad and I with your questions and we’ll try to plot a way through this minefield.
Question: In the Old Testament God’s people purged the land of idol worshippers, can we do the same?
Answer: I don’t like this question and can’t believe that the topic is being so readily discussed. Both Brad and I have independently been sent links to a video from a pastor who readily supports the idea of blowing these people to smithereens. The diatribe has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times with the pastor receiving a standing ovation from the folks in his church. This has led to me being asked whether such action is Biblical in light of Old Testament passages like Joshua 6, 8 and 10. When God’s people entered the land under Joshua they wiped out entire people groups in the name of God. So can’t we just bomb ISIS to pulp?
The passages in question are among the hardest for most people to comprehend today. As I’ve said numerous times, there are parts of the Bible I really don’t like. Joshua 6,8 and 10 are three parts of the Bible I don’t like. I haven’t got time to go into a scriptural response to these passage but they are troubling to me, quite honestly. I don’t have the choice to pick and choose which parts of the Bible I accept. In the case of passages like these I work them through as best as I can and trust that what I don’t get now I may one day.
Having said that, the critical component in answering the question is to recognize that the events in question are during the years of conquest. I don’t see any justifiable reason to say that we can use Old Testament conquest language to purge ‘foreigners’ or ‘different religious groups’ from a land. I can’t find any justifiable Scriptural support for saying that a dominant religious group or power is permitted to bomb folks to smithereens.
What about the innocent? Make no mistake, God cares about the innocent. Think about these few passages – amongst many.
God told Abraham that he would spare a city for ten who were innocent (see Gen. 18:22). In that story, God led a few righteous people out and protected them from the coming fiery judgment. Aren’t we called to do the same? In Numbers 31:35 God spares thirty-two thousand women who hadn’t slept with a man. Then we have the story of Rahab. If Numbers 31 narrates the ‘virgins’ being spared, in the case of Rahab (see Joshua 2:1) God spares a prostitute (although it could be that she was a 'land lady'). In 1st Timothy 1:16 Paul tells Timothy that God showed him mercy because he acted in ignorance and unbelief. This is Paul – a guy who actively sort to wipe out Christians. God showed a guy like this mercy. Are we not going to show mercy to those caught in the cross fire?
I’m sure you are getting my drift. Yes, the Old Testament language is sometimes difficult for us to get our head around. This conquest language is tough. Yet, in lots of places action is commanded to protect people from the hell that is about to be unleashed. To ignore these passages while reciting passages of judgment is Scripturally indefensible and morally reprehensible, isn’t it? Whatever the solution is, dropping bombs without due consideration for the innocent – or whatever other term you want to use – is deplorably selective theology.
So if we want to bomb the place to smithereens, maybe we need to act like the God we worship and make sure that we do our part to get the innocent, vulnerable, and ignorant out of there!
Question: We recognize that the refugees need to be helped but don’t bring them here. They could walk into a church, even our church, and detonate a bomb.
Answer: The internal security challenge is real and I really, really, really don’t wish to minimize that for one second. Every church, including our own, has to step up security measures. We have a responsibility to those who worship with us and at Central we take that very seriously.
There’s another part of the question I’d like to challenge though.
A warning: I am about to be satirical. The sarcasm is quite possibly the best way to deal with the assertion I believe to be false: “we’ll help but not from here.”
So, refugees shouldn’t come here but they can go to Athens and blow up the Greeks, Istanbul and blow up the Turks or Berlin and blow up the Germans? Are the lives of others worth less than ours? Or better still why not send them to Saudi Arabia? If they do detonate their bombs there at least we’ll have a few Muslims less than we do now! That would also destabilize the Middle East and the good news with that is that Jesus will come back sooner then (let’s ignore the fact that Judas tried to help Jesus’ hand and it never helped him much)! Better still, why not keep them all at home? Since, contrary to the opinion of some, not all refugees are terrorists let’s allow the innocent to be beheaded, shot, raped and tortured, shall we? Let’s allow all those who don’t want this repressive and evil ideology to be hung out to dry. Let’s turn a blind eye to the suffering of others.
As I read this I can't help but think that doing this would lead to us acting like the religious folks in the parable of the Good Samaritan. When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he told the Good Samaritan story in such a way as to ask the question, “To whom can you be a good neighbor?” He turns the original question around with the clear expectation of putting to shame a faith system that deemed it acceptable to preach platitudes while passing over pain. Such religion, the New Testament declares, is vain and empty religion:
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” [James 1:27]
This is a humanitarian disaster of massive proportions. While there are clear dangers in opening the flood gates, the decision to shrug our shoulders and absolve ourselves of any responsibility is to deny our part in either the problem or the solution.
Can we really do that?
We are doing this series not because we believe refugees should come but to minister to those who are foreigners, aliens, strangers and refugees who have found their way in to our community. Having said that, whatever the world does, we need to be concerned about any response that ignores the plight of the vulnerable and hurting. We must live as good neighbors …
The next question we’ve been asked follows on from this…
Question: Hasn’t the government got a responsibility to keep her people safe? What is the higher priority for government: security or humanitarian concerns?
Answer: Government does have the responsibility to protect her citizens. Jehoshaphat was a godly king. It’s interesting to note what he did at the start of his reign: “His son Jehoshaphat became king in his place and strengthened himself against Israel. 2 He stationed troops in every fortified city of Judah and set garrisons in the land of Judah and in the cities of Ephraim that his father Asa had captured. 3 Now the Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he walked in the former ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals 4 but sought the God of his father and walked by His commands, not according to the practices of Israel.” [2 Chronicles 17:1-4]
One of Jehoshaphat’s first acts as king of the Southern kingdom was to make sure his people were safe. Guarding their people is a biblical responsibility of government.
That said, why do safety and humanitarian concerns stand in opposition? I don’t see the Scriptures prioritizing safety over loving compassion. In fact, I see the example of Jesus modeling the opposite. As Brad shared last week, safety and following Jesus can hardly be said to go hand in hand.
If true, shouldn’t the goal be to respond to the crisis in such a way that the threat is minimized and the humanitarian concerns addressed? Some want an absolute guarantee of safety before any humanitarian concerns are addressed. While understandable, I’m not sure that is biblical.
It’s generally true that bad choices lead to bad outcomes and good choices lead to good outcomes. Doing what God’s Word says will lead to a fulfilled life in the long term. For example, not allowing sinful patterns of behavior to control our thoughts and actions will lead to a blessed life. Every Christian knows that to be true. But that blessed life does not mean that it will be an easy life. We've can not guarantee how others will respond to our actions, for example.
So making good choices on difficult issues is no guarantee of the desired outcomes happening every time. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Life has a habit of not playing by the rules. As much as we want to control our lives and guarantee the outcomes, life is rarely controllable and there are no guarantees. If it is the guarantee we want, then we are going to be living our lives waiting for ‘that last and final day’ when the pain of this life will be gone once and for all.
Rather than living for the end God calls us to live with the end in mind. These two statements may sound the same but they are drastically different. Living with the end in mind calls us to play our part in ushering in the rule and reign of God on earth, a rule that brings healing and wholeness. Kingdom living is motivated by bringing a touch of heaven to earth while we live. Living for the end, however, waits for the healing and wholeness of the end. Christians are called to live with the end in mind, not sit and wait for the end to come.
So, there is no such thing as a guarantee. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we don’t prioritize peoples’ safety. Great wisdom is needed to ensure that everything that can possibly be done to balance safety and responsibility is done. But we live with the end in mind. We live to usher in the rule and reign of God on earth just as it is experienced in heaven. That is certainly a risky endeavor!
One area of discussion, relating to safety, has been the screening of foreigners coming in to the country. Brad highlighted last week the checks in place for folks coming in. Are they watertight? No. Does more work need to be done in making them more effective? Undoubtedly. We've had quite a few conversations on that theme, this week. After the events of California earlier this week, people have also asked whether more stringent checks need to happen for applications where religion is a factor. Should we do more stringent checks for non-refugee residency applications, too?
Many don’t know this but I’ve been on the receiving end of a system that differentiates residency applications on the basis of faith. I came to the USA on an R1 visa – that’s a religious worker visa. For my Green Card application two applications had to be made. One from the church I worked for (my employer) and the second from me (for my family). In other fields (e.g... business) the application from the employer is made simultaneously with the application from the individual. In shortens the entire process for the business person. In the religious worker case, however, the government decided to separate the process out with the employer application coming before the individual application. It made the entire process much longer for me but gave the government time to check me out more thoroughly. They did this in a number of ways.
My immigration attorney told me that there were plans to sue the government for discrimination (on the basis of religion). From an equality standpoint, I understand that point. Why wasn’t I treated like a British businessman seeking permanent residency? Why should his process be quicker than mine?
In the context of a radicalized religious threat, however, I have to say that I understand why the process was protracted. Ok, I’m not Muslim but why should I be treated differently from a Muslim in the eyes of the law? Equality is equality, isn’t it? After the incidents of California earlier this week - where some are saying the immigration process (not the refugee process) failed - I’m sure more thought will go in to evaluating the checks currently in play for all. When it comes to protecting the country, are we going to be okay with some individuals needing to be processed more thoroughly than they are now? Is the law going to be okay with that?
The refugee series we are currently in does not address matters of national security but the Christian responsibility to the marginalized, the strangers in our midst. Clearly though, national security is an issue. The threats from within are as great if not greater than the threats from without. It is not just the refugee process that needs constant evaluation but the immigration process too. The immigration theme, unfortunately, is a political mindful right now. Immigration is a big issue that we can't seem to get our heads around. The events of this week remind us that the immigration process is as important to get right as the refugee process.
Keep praying for our leaders and keep bringing a touch of heaven to earth…
If you want to add a question for Brad and I, please feel free to do that. We are just two guys who happen to think that a deep look at the Bible will provide us with the wisdom we need in challenging times.