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At present, this issue sparks emotional reactions from many to say the least. In the last 24 hours, I have received lots of feedback from both Christians and non-Christians. So many have been gracious towards me and compassionate towards the refugee. Even many who agree with the current refugee ban have been kind, thoughtful, and willing to consider this issue further in a prayerful way.
Others, not so much. But, sadly, that is all too common in these discussions.
As Senator James Lankford (R) from my state of Oklahoma tweeted this week: “We should be able to disagree but treat each other with respect.”
I also realize that the letter I signed, my Op Ed in Tulsa World, and other things I have written or said have likely been seen or heard by many before reading this. I hope my thoughts here are seen as both complimentary and explanatory of what I have asserted elsewhere.
In any case, would you also be willing to consider this issue prayerfully as you read further, no matter what your first reaction was to this?
I believe when we truly consider difficult topics prayerfully, we will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV). I am confident the Spirit will not lead you to be spiteful, disrespectful, or just plain mean with your words. So please don’t be.
Before you read further, please allow me to clarify a few things up front:
- I pray for our president and our nation continually as instructed by the Scriptures. I have done this for more than 20 years, no matter which party holds the majority in Washington.
- I am not anti-Trump. I have never, and will never speak publicly against any political leader unless the day comes that there is a forced attempt to make me disobey God.
- At the same time, no leader is above criticism. It is okay for me and others to disagree with this decision. It is also completely plausible that we can do so without being against those who have made it.
- I am in favor of secure borders and in-depth vetting in all areas of immigration, not limited to refugees.
- Consider the fact that of all the countries who have accepted and are accepting refugees from the Middle East, the U.S. has accepted a very low percentage. This has been true regarding refugees for decades. We have historically been very careful about this process. Certainly no one expects our current administration to speed the process up! It is the complete stop to the slow trickle of accepting refugees that has caused us to speak out.
- Some people have suggested that caring for refugees takes precedence over caring for the need in our own communities – like the homeless and veterans. Anyone who knows anything about me or my personal ministry knows that I have never argued for taking care of foreign people at the expense of our own. In fact, I have committed a great deal of my ministry to people from this country who are in need. That does not change what I believe to be my Biblical responsibility to the foreigner, which is outlined below.
- Many have already expressed to me that they believe it is possible to demonstrate a Christ-like compassion towards refugees and also make safety a top priority. I agree. As I was quoted in a Univision article (translated here from Spanish): “I care about safety and security very much. I also have a family that I want to protect. I hope we continue to make those things a top priority. At the same time, I refuse to allow fear, prejudice, and politics to become an excuse to not advocate for victims of injustice, and for the men, women, and children looking for a refuge from violence around the world.”
- Media on both sides of any issue will take words out of context and interpolate words that were never said. A great example of this was our letter being called a “denouncement”; when it was, in fact, a very kind, respectful, and reasonable plea. Please don’t assume things that are not said.
Many other leaders from my denomination have signed this letter and weighed in on this issue on behalf of refugees. Russell Moore’s Letter to President Trump was also published in the Washington Post just a few days ago.
WHY I SIGNED THE LETTER
If you have not yet read the letter, you can find it here: Washington Post Letter from Evangelicals.
When I received the following from World Relief, I was anxious to jump on board:
“While we very much share the President’s concern for protecting the wellbeing of American citizens we believe that our nation can be both secure and compassionate, as we have been throughout our history. Our sense is that many Christians leaders across the nation are seeking to address this issue. There is a strong and growing voice that says it is possible to have security (as demonstrated by the stellar history of the refugee program) and compassion at the same time.”
For the past several months, I have spoken and written much about the refugee crisis worldwide (for example, see: Syrian children are not politics.) While the Middle East crises garner the most attention in the media and promote the most debate, there are certainly many others. To name a few: The Horn of Africa. Myanmar. Venezuela. There are literally millions of people on our planet right now who have no permanent home. Many have seen and endured unspeakable things, and I believe passionately that we have a Biblical responsibility to care and to act.
As much as I try to keep a safe distance from politics–not only because of my role in the Church but even more because I hate the way people often behave in political discussions–this issue clearly ruffles both sides of the political spectrum. I relate strongly to the sentiments of David Platt, president of the IMB and author of Radical:
“My aim in addressing the refugee crisis is not to propose a particular political position for our country, but to say to the church that the way so many of us think and talk about refugees today seems to spring from a foundation of fear, not of faith. Our opinions, conversations, and discussions flow from a view of the world that is far more American than it is biblical and far more concerned with the preservation of our country than it is with the accomplishment of the Great Commission. And this must change.
The needs around us in the world are too great, our gospel is too good, and our times are too urgent for you and I to sit back and settle for endless conversations and constant quarrels over small things that don’t matter. We need to lift our eyes to what matters, namely, a world where God is orchestrating the movement of peoples so that they might know Him. And there are unprecedented opportunities to take the gospel to them!
There are families in tents right now whose hearts are longing for hope, whose ears are waiting to hear just some semblance of good news.” (David Platt, 1/31/17, radical.net)
A SCRIPTURE YOU JUST CAN’T MISS
For those who argue there is a biblical justification for turning our backs on refugees (i.e. the walls built around Jerusalem or God’s judgment of nations who worship false gods), I beg to differ. In fact, I would argue just the opposite.
I will refer to several Scriptures below, but one that I have not heard quoted much during this process shatters the argument that God wants His people to keep foreigners of any faith out of their land. And this Scripture comes at the dedication of the first temple of Jerusalem–AFTER its walls had been completed.
Solomon prayed: “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.” (1 Kings 8:41-43, NIV)
If that did not hit you, read it again. Solomon prayed that God would answer the prayers of any foreigner who calls out to Him for help, SO THAT all peoples from every nation would know God’s name and worship Him with reverence. God’s commission was not to keep the nations away, but to bring them in and share the Good News about God’s name with them. Israel was clearly allowed to defend herself against her enemies, but never to close her doors off completely to those who would call on God for help.
Many of us do not realize that thousands of Middle Eastern people are crying out to God and to Christians for help. They are not seeking to harm us. They are pleading with us to demonstrate the Christ-like love and charity that God’s people have been known to offer graciously throughout the centuries. They are looking to Christ for hope! Don’t take my word for it, read a few of David Platt’s testimonials from Muslim refugees.
Many of us do not realize that thousands of Middle Eastern people are crying out to God and to Christians for help.
There are many other commands and exhortations given throughout the Bible to welcome the foreigner and the refugee. And not only to welcome them, but to care for and offer assistance to them.
-In Matthew 2:13-15, Jesus’ parents are forced to flee with him to Egypt as refugees. Again, according to David Platt,
“In the first story we have about [Jesus] after His birth, he flees to Egypt. Like a refugee, Jesus was driven to a foreign country by a murderous king.” (Platt, 1/31/17, radical.net)
-In the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), “Jesus makes it clear that our ‘neighbor’ includes the stranger and anyone fleeing persecution and violence, regardless of their faith or country,” as our letter states.
-When Jesus comes in disguise as those who are in need in the “least of these” passage (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus said “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
-Paul said that in Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). This certainly applies to our Christian brothers and sisters who are being denied refuge in our land, but I believe also applies to the way we view all others based on religion, race, status, and gender.
-One of these verses that seems particularly applicable has shades of the Golden Rule within, “Do not oppress a foreigner, you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9, NIV)
-In the formative days of the first Hebrew communities, God commanded his people to love the foreigner in their lands as if he or she were native-born, and to love the foreigner as one loves oneself (Leviticus 19:34).
-God also gave practical instructions, like intentionally leaving extra food available on the edges, grounds, and vines of one’s fields so that the foreigner or poor person who may pass through will find nourishment. (Leviticus 19:9-10).
-God also commanded them to defend the defenseless foreigner and to provide him or her with food and clothing (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).
-Late in the Old Testament story, God commanded His people to fight for justice on behalf of the foreigner (Malachi 3:5).
THE BOTTOM LINE
The walls of Jerusalem were not meant to keep the nations out. Quite the contrary. They were built to be a protection from her enemies and those who would mean to do her harm.
And ah, that’s where the problem lies now isn’t it. We are afraid that refugees from the Middle East will be our enemies. For those who feel that way, I encourage you to come with us and visit some refugee families that our church is serving. Meet the moms, the dads, and the children. Once you meet them, see their faces, learn their names, and hear their stories, you will realize quickly that these families are not our enemies.
Refugee families are victims. Some of them are Christians…most from the Middle East are Muslim. Nowhere in the Scriptures above does God disqualify anyone for their faith if they are a genuine refugee in need. So neither do I believe we should disqualify someone simply because they are a cultural or devout Muslim.
Listen, I also have concerns about security. Who doesn’t these days? But I am far more likely to suffer harm from someone who was born here than I am a refugee. And that’s not speaking just in terms of numbers, but in percentages as well. I refuse to let the fear of the unknown pollute my call to seek justice for those who are suffering as long as God gives me a voice to do so.
I am pro-life and pro-refugee. I believe wholeheartedly that God values every human life, from before the womb and past the grave. I refuse to condone discarding precious lives or looking the other way from injustice for the microscopic chance that a person who means to do me harm may be among them.
I refuse to condone discarding precious lives or looking the other way from injustice for the microscopic chance that a person who means to do me harm may be among them.
WHAT SHOULD BE OUR BIBLICAL RESPONSE?
A professor once told me that I was better at identifying problems than suggesting solutions. It is easier, she argued, to be a problem pointer-outer than a problem solver. I agree, and so here are what I believe ought to be our Biblical and practical responses in dealing with this issue as we go forward.
- Pray for our President, our nation’s leaders, and the free movement of the Good News of the Gospel to all people.
- Consider the names from my denomination and the other Evangelical leaders who have joined together to request a reconsideration of this issue. Perhaps our (hopefully) strong track record of seeking out Biblical answers both prayerfully and thoughtfully could allow for more than just a knee-jerk reaction.
- Demand justice not only for the refugee, but for all who are victims of injustice.
- Call on our nation’s leaders to both clarify and maintain high standards for the vetting of all immigrants and the resettlement of all refugees, while not demanding a complete end to our ability to be a safe harbor for those in need.
- Pray that we can, as a nation and as followers of Christ, find a balanced way to show compassion to refugees while not foolishly sacrificing our safety.
- Take an active role in serving the hurting and needy around you in Christ’s name. You can join us at South Tulsa Baptist Church, as we are developing a growing ministry to serve international and refugee families in our community. Remember, “[God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:18, NIV)
I agree with the sentiments of Russell Moore in his letter to President Trump:
“Christian churches and other faith communities have proven their unique ability to facilitate such adjustments. Southern Baptists know that our responsibility is to care for and serve refugees here in the United States and around the world, and we remain committed to that mission.”
Will you consider this prayerfully?
I welcome your comments and discussion on this issue. A few ground rules:
- Anyone who comments disrespectfully towards anyone else will not have their comment approved or it will be deleted quickly.
- If you have not read above in its entirety, do not comment until you have.
- Please do not interpolate words into my statements that I did not say or write.
- Exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.