“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
People do not want to leave their country and culture of origin. It takes a significant event to make them abandon all that is familiar and step into the unknown. Most of the refugees are leaving because they have no other choice. In Turkey I spoke with a number of people who literally fled ISIS at the point of a gun. These refugees will be seeking asylum in predominantly western countries. But even as they are desperate for safety and security there is growing hostility towards them in the West.
At a recent prayer gathering my church prayed for refugees and for the work of the church in Turkey. It stirred some discontent among our folks regarding the political situation and the impending reception of refugees from these countries. The point of the prayer was to lift up the Christian leaders in Turkey who are serving the arriving refugees. It wasn’t focused on refugees who may be coming to the US. But there were people who responded with grave concern.
We will be serving those same refugees as they arrive in our community. The Iraqi refugees are already here. The newer Syrian refugees will begin to arrive in Beaverton in the summer of 2016. Will there be bad people among them who are a threat to Americans? There may very well be. It is why I am prayerful that my country can responsibly screen those who are coming. But concerned people are asking the wrong question. The more important humanitarian question is, “what kind of people would you want to receive your wife or daughter if they fled this country because you had been threatened, imprisoned or killed?”
Our president says that receiving refugees is a demonstration of American leadership. Candidate Ben Carson says we would be wiser to shore up refugee camps in Syria and the Middle East instead. Candidate Donald Trump says we need a moratorium on accepting any Muslim refugees until we have a better idea of how to vet them. The political climate in America is heating up with regard to immigration. There is a lot of debate, disagreement, fear mongering and resistance to the admission of refugees.
Many evangelicals are politically conservative. They take a dim view of receiving immigrants, particularly Muslims. When they hear refugee they think terrorist. Some concerns are legitimate, so it is not my purpose to try to present a political case for one side or the other. I do not make the decisions that determine our immigration policies or processes. I can vote in ways that I believe are responsible and I can even hope for a particular outcome, but as an evangelical I cannot view the arrival of refugees politically. I have to view it from the perspective of God’s great love. Jesus challenged the status quo among the religious establishment of his day, appealing on behalf of the love and mercy of God the Father. This is our opportunity to disciple the church, no matter how politically diverse we may be. Unless evangelicals do this, and unless our leaders teach our people about having a heart of love for the strangers who sojourns among us, we will fail to live up to God’s expectations for His church.
“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and 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 when did we see you sick or in prison and visit 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 25:37-40)