Which life is worth more: the American child playing happily in her home, or the Syrian child frantically clinging to the stranger who pulled her alone from a boat of refugees?
The Christian truth is that all humanity is made in God’s image and, therefore, of equal value. This truth is fundamentally at odds with the definition of humanity that says a life is more valuable because it is American. The Christian response to refugees is to welcome and serve and help.
Now, I am not arguing naively for flinging doors open and relaxing our safety standards in immigration. A nation’s government MUST seek the protection of its citizens. Romans 13 says that God instituted human government – in part – to punish wrongdoers (i.e. – those who commit acts of terror). That’s a Christian belief just as much as caring for the poor.
However, the church cannot maintain the same mindset as the national government. The church is not the government, and the government is not the church. The church does not seek the safety of its borders. The church does not work for self-preservation, but puts self as a secondary concern to the needs of others. This is the long history of the tradition of Jesus Christ.
Thus, the real question presented to us is this: how do we as Christians clearly stand for the spirit of Christ, displaying self-sacrifice instead of self-preservation, while at the same time honoring the role of government to protect its citizens?
Here are some of my thoughts:
We should call our nation to remember its responsibility to care for the helpless.
This has two parts, and both are necessary.
First, we must urge our nation to not let policy be driven entirely by radical self-preservationist tendencies. that are willing to sacrifice the refugee for our personal safety. If Christians (and other concerned groups) do not speak loudly on behalf of the refugee (and yes, the domestic homeless/needy also. see below) then it would be all too easy for us to find contentment in our safety while hundreds of thousands are homeless, defenseless, and in need. That being said:
Secondly, we must urge our government to immediately do whatever is necessary to both expand and strengthen our refugee immigration processes. What I mean here is that our refugee immigration processes must be examined immediately, so that gaps and inefficiencies are rectified, ensuring that those refugees who do arrive are – with all reasonable assurance – not seeking to do harm to the citizens of the United States. We should call our government to immediately begin acting to do whatever is necessary to ensure that refugees can be accepted in a way that does not endanger our safety.
Does this mean doubling immigration staff? Do it. Does it mean forming multiple international committees to help verify potential refugee immigrants? Do it. Does it mean increasing our labor and expense tenfold? If so, then so be it. This should be the Christian voice in this crisis.
Christians must be willing to leave our comfort to go serve refugees where they are
If it becomes evident that it is not possible to accept refugees with a significant degree of assurance that the safety of citizens won’t be compromised, then the Christian response should be to go where the refugees are to care for them. (Perhaps this is also true for the interim time in which immigration processes are being verified.) If we are going to say, “Pause the acceptance of refugees,” then we as Christians need to be ready to follow that up with, “and in the meantime I’ll go help care for them.”
The call to Christianity is not a call to comfort and self-preservation. The Christian call is one of radical self-sacrifice. Our religion is rooted in the ultimate act of self-denial: the eternal Lord Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, willingly giving himself up to be crucified and punished for us. We can’t wear the title Christian while refusing to imitate Christ.
Christians must be leaders in the concern and care for the poor and homeless already in our nation.
A number of people have brought this up, and it is a totally legitimate and fair response: why be so concerned for the refugee in need when we haven’t cared for the homeless veterans and needy in our own country? The indictment is fair, but the conclusion comes out upside down too often. Usually, this is said to argue that we shouldn’t care for refugees because we have people in our own country who are in need. Instead, the consistent value of all life means that if we are going to care for one group in need, we need to be ready to care for all groups in need, whether the homeless veteran in our country or the homeless refugee needing aid. It is inconsistent and unchristian to neglect either group.
Support those who work for peace on a global scale
This speaks for itself, I think. As Christians, we must pray for our world and ask God to bring peace. We must labor to bring peace, and support world leaders who work for peace. It shouldn’t need to be said, but it must be: Christians cannot revel in war. It is a grievous thing, and we should seek the end of it. The issue of peace and the issue of refugees are connected, and if we seek to truly rectify the problem, then we must recognize the need for peace on a global scale.
As Christians, we do not have the option of simply rejecting refugees, nor of naively ignoring the nation’s attempt to protect itself. We cannot afford simplistic suggestions that minimize the great risk and great cost of helping such a huge number of desperate refugees from a volatile area. We must be people of clear thinking and hard labor to do whatever is necessary, even at the cost of our comfort. We must stand clearly as a set-apart people, not acting out of a spirit of self-preservation, but acting in the Spirit of Christ and self-sacrifice. And we must be the voice for the poor and helpless in a society that tends toward radical self-preservation as a fundamental and non-negotiable commitment.
We are Christians, and we labor to establish the Kingdom of peace by displaying the loving sacrifice of the Prince of Peace. There is no clearer Christian opportunity that what is before us at this moment.