By Scott Gustafson
The global refugee crisis reached a peak this year, and is still climbing. At this time in human history there are more refugees and displaced people than at any other time on planet earth. 65.3 million or 1/113 human beings are displaced from their homes (UNHCR).
Speaking at a church recently about refugee ministry among Syrian and Iraqis, I was shamed by a middle aged man wagging his finger and shouting “those Muslims just want to kill us!” What followed was not a look of shock in the audience, or even on the pastor’s face sitting with them, but tacit agreement. Reactions like these to even straight-up biblical teaching on showing hospitality and loving one’s enemy are becoming so commonplace, it’s one of the first questions my wife asks when I return home. “‘Was it the ‘don’t they want to kill us?’ or ‘’how can we let all those terrorists come here?’ question this time?” I and some on my church’s refugee ministry team have even received hateful emails.
Research finds that churches are 2x more likely to fear refugees than help them. 86% of evangelical pastors say their churches must get involved in compassionate care for refugees, while only 9% of churches are actually doing anything internationally, and only 10% locally (Lifeway 2016).
There seems to be a massive disconnect in the American Christian’s understanding of the biblical teaching on patriotism, refugees and loving one’s perceived enemy.
Another survey found that only 12% of evangelical Christians say that their views on refugees and immigration are primarily informed by the Bible (Lifeway 2016). We apparently need to recalibrate why it’s so important that the church engage in the refugee crisis both here and abroad.
One of my grad school professors stressed the biblical importance of caring for the disenfranchised by pointing out over 3,000 biblical references to the widow, orphan, stranger, sojourner and other disenfranchised classes. Many of these are specifically about caring for the ‘foreigner’ or ‘sojourner’. It is such an important concept that it is the 2nd most oft repeated command in the Old Testament after ‘you shall worship no other Gods’. In fact, as you read various passages from the law, caring for the sojourner was an indicator for the people of Israel of their spiritual health.
Job, David, Solomon, Ezekiel, Malachi and almost every other prophet link the care of aliens and strangers with authentic faith.
The bible also repeatedly reminded the people of Israel that they were sojourners (Deut 10:19), and Peter calls all of us foreigners and exiles (1Pet 2:11). The main cast of the biblical story is replete with refugee stories. Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Jacob, the whole nation of Israel and most importantly Jesus were in fact refugees.
The savior himself began his incarnation by identifying with the lowliest of the disenfranchised.
In a convicting parable, Jesus proposes a foreigner Samaritan as the hero of a story shaming the Jews for their lack of compassion, and suggesting they learn from this alien. In Hebrews (13:2) we are commanded to show hospitality towards strangers, and in a comprehensive list of 28 traits that should mark a true Christian, Paul lists loving strangers along with avoiding evil, being constant in prayer and meeting needs among the saints. Romans 12:13 is often translated ‘practice hospitality’ but literally means ‘express brotherly love towards the foreigner.’ (philoxenia).
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