Refugee Crisis: Will Politics or Grace Prevail?
By Micah McIntyre
Taking only what can be carried on foot, a young couple and their newborn son rise up and flee from their homes in the dead of the night. They do not understand why things have changed, but they know that the current regime is above reproach and they cannot stay. The safest place for them is anywhere but their native land. Remaining in their home means certain death. For Mary, Joseph and Jesus, flight to the land of Egypt is the only course of action.
Our God is the God of poor strangers. We worship a God who has known the suffering of the oppressed and he calls us to walk alongside them as he did us. On that long journey to Egypt, Jesus experienced the pain of a refugee. Today, there are millions more in the same situation, in desperate need of the love God calls us to show to aliens and foreigners.
A Crisis of Historic Proportions
The world is in the midst of the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Currently there are over 65 million forcibly displaced people around the world and of those, 25.4 million are refugees (people who have been forced to leave their country of origin).
Eighty five percent of all refugees are in developing countries, while Western nations are steadily limiting the number of refugees allowed across their borders. Since 1980, America has resettled 3.3 million refugees. Last year, America only admitted about 47,000 refugees–that is .2 percent of the total number of refugees accepted by the rest of the world.
For decades, Americans, especially Christians, have prided themselves on leading the world in refugee resettlement and providing for asylum-seekers. In the past two years, that tune has changed.
Christians today are caught between the calls for high walls and calls for no walls, forced to choose between two impossible solutions. Our first response should be to examine the situation through a biblical lens and look to God as the ultimate authority. But in the church, the voices of politics are louder than the voices of grace.
A Mission Compromised by Politics
Pew Research Center found that only a third of white evangelical Protestants were in favor of raising the cap of refugees to allow more into the country while 74 percent said that they supported the Trump’s travel ban, citing national security as the main reason for their support. This idea is not totally unfounded after the terror attacks in Paris and ISIS claiming to have placed insurgents within groups of refugees. The threat to national security does, however, need to be put into perspective.
Of the 3 million refugees to enter the US since 1975, only 20 refugees have become terrorists and killed three Americans. The threat of terrorism is very real in our world today and should be taken seriously, but according to these numbers there is 3.64 billion to one chance of being killed by a refugee in a terrorist attack in the US this year.
It begs American Christians to ask themselves this: Are we acting out of vigilance or fear?
High wall policies are not only unrealistic, they often promote rhetoric and expose prejudices–especially against Muslims–that oppose God’s call for us to love and care for people of all nations. Christian’s endorsement and silence convey the same message to refugees overseas and currently in the country. However, this is not to say that calling for open doors is the solution to the problem either.
The sentiment behind the open doors stance is well-meaning and falls in line with the Biblical call for us to welcome foreigners and aliens. Matthew 25:30-40 beautifully explains that caring for those without food, shelter and clothing is caring for God himself. There is no doubt that we are called to be especially compassionate towards strangers and foreigners. In a perfect world, opening the doors would be a solution to the crisis at hand. But our world is far from perfect.
As stated earlier, the threat of terrorism is not to be taken lightly–the attacks in Paris and Turkey are testaments of that sad reality. Often times, open door policies also do not take into account the difficulty of the cultural shift for rural farmers coming to urban America and its impact on them.
Just as high walls policies can encourage hateful rhetoric, open door policies can frame refugees as helpless and result in our being quite patronizing. Needless to say, Christians are currently in the middle of a polarized, political nightmare that promises to grow more complicated as time goes on. But we must not be swayed by the overpowering voices of the political world and confuse them with God’s call to love strangers and foreigners.
Where Do We Go From Here?
For centuries, churches have either found or placed themselves at the center of humanitarian crises and fights for justice. From the ten Booms hiding Jews in the Netherlands during WWII, to Christians in Geneva harboring thousands of religious refugees from all over Europe in the 16th century, to abolitionist congregations helping slaves along in the underground railroad, the Church and her members have always provided a safe haven for those in need. We cannot stop now, not at a time like this.
Almost 75 percent of Christians in America claimed they want support the refugees around the world, and yet Evangelicals make up the majority of voters in favor of closing the borders and upholding the travel ban.
Answering the call to care for strangers and foreigners is impossible unless we are willing to let them into our backyard. We cannot stay silent as the current administration continually passes laws that allow fewer and fewer refugees across our borders.
Refugees should not have to question whether they are wanted or loved by Christians in America.
Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief says, “For many Christian leaders around the country who’ve been engaged in refugee ministry for decades, this travel ban was not only threatening people who were so vulnerable already, but it was limiting our ability to live our core Christian conviction, which has been a part of our calling for 2,000 years.”
Even if more policies are put in place to limit the refugee flow into America, there are already thousands in our midst who have not been reached. Studies have shown that only eight percent of churches in the United States have a ministry for refugees, another eight percent have desire to get involved, and two-thirds have not even brought up the topic. For some, there may not be a large refugee community or they may not know where to begin, but for others they do not act because of fear or prejudice.
“Most evangelical Christians are not thinking as Christians on the issue,” said Matthew Soerens, World Relief’s church training specialist. “Most see newcomers as a threat or a burden. Only 4 in 10 see a gospel opportunity.”
But this is not the case for our brothers and sisters around the globe.
In Iraq, the Mar Ellia Church has transformed their compound into a refugee camp that services hundreds of people.
Lebanese Christians are setting an incredible example for the rest of world in Christian-Muslim relations.For example, Catholic schools see anywhere from 15-20 percent of their student body made up of Muslim children, many of whom are refugees.
Anglican churches in England are requesting more financial support after using vacant vicarages and buildings on their property to house refugee families.
If we cannot open the doors of our country, we must open the doors of our churches. If we do not do that, then we are failing in our mission to spread the good news of the gospel.
Photo Courtesy of Ina Fassbender