Monday, November 23, 2015

Romans and Refugees

I have avoided saying anything about the refugee situation that is the justice crisis du jour. As a reminder, there have been refugees for pretty much ever. Our local city is home to a huge number of Burmese refugees. There are lots of Somalians in Minnesota for some reason. So this is not a new crisis, it is just one that happens to juxtapose with other world affairs and hot button topics in an election cycle so it gets a lot of attention and will promptly be forgotten by the social media warriors shortly. That is not to make light of the situation, rather I am just pointing out that the attention span per crisis in America is awfully short.

One thing I want to get out of the way up front. If you are trying to draw an equivalency between the Syrian refugees and the flight of Jesus to Egypt, please stop because it is silly. When you drop the "This is just like what Jesus...." card, you have announced that you don't really have an argument. In the first century there were no formalized borders, immigration procedures, citizenship processes, etc. that modern nation-states have. The issues of concern regarding Syrian refugees didn't exist in that era. They didn't go thousands of miles away, across the ocean, to seek asylum, Jesus and His family went to Egypt, a relatively close neighboring land and they only stayed until they got word to go back, they didn't become permanent residents. Other than going from one place to another, there really isn't that much similarity at all. So please stop. There are actual valid reasons for accepting large numbers of Syrian refugees, use them instead of trying to force Jesus into a contemporary event that bears little similarity to the actual experience of Christ.

The current refugee situation is a perfect example of the idea of two kingdoms. First the Kingdom of God, of which Christians are members and duly authorized ambassadors. Our calling as Christians is to love our neighbor, to esteem them more than ourselves, to be generous and sacrificial without expecting or demanding anything in return. That means that a refugee ought to be loved and cared for, not just in flowery words or self-righteous Tweets but in actual real and tangible ways. It doesn't matter to me as a Christian if my neighbor is a red-blooded, born in 'Murica citizen or if they are here illegally. A human being, a fellow image bearer of God, in need demands my help. The church is not the government and the government is not the church. America has Christians dwelling here but America is not Christian. We cannot entangle our response as the church with the secular political actions of a nation-state. Even my neighbor who is an Islamist jihadi in need ought to be loved as Christ loved His enemies that now make up His church. Jesus didn't save anyone who was on "His side" before they were born-again. In sum, our response to refugees as followers of Christ is distinct from what the government does.

The other kingdom, the kingdom of Caesar and the world, has a different mandate, one to enact and enforce laws. Any reasonably functional nation has an interest in maintaining borders and enacting sensible immigration policies. Just because there is a flurry of posts on Facebook, a nation shouldn't fling open the doors to any and all. That means that a nation like America has a reason and a responsibility to have a policy and process that governs people emigrating to this nation, whether people are here temporarily to work, whether they are asylum seekers, whether they are students or whether they are seeking permanent residency and citizenship. We shouldn't expect Caesar to act like the church and we shouldn't want Caesar to act as a proxy for the church. Two kingdoms with two different sets of priorities and principles.

Situations like the Syrian refugees are a good time for the church to take a step back and take a breath. Demonizing Syrian refugees as all being potential terrorists is not based in fact nor is it reflective of the Christian ethic. Neither is demonizing fellow Christians for expecting the secular government to take appropriate and reasonable cautions. Let's all try to keep in mind that we as the church are supposed to be on the same team, maybe we can have rational discussions without meme wars and slander.


Anonymous said...

Is God bringing these refugees here because we cannot go there with the gospel? If that is the case, then we need to have a missions minded view.

simonjfry said...

Very well spoken thoughts in the midst of the refugee debate. Too many Christians just simply forget that the government was established by God, but it is does not have the same commission as their Church.

Our focus should be on reaching out to the ones in our vicinity that need help. If we'd focus on that instead of arguing about whether our government is being enough "like Jesus" in welcoming every person who wants to come to this country.

But then with that, every Christian that believes we have a duty to refugees had better be asking themselves if they are doing their part in their own community. It's always easier to tell others what they should be doing than to actually do it ourselves. Yep-me included. :)

Arthur Sido said...

Simon, me too to my chagrin.