Love your (Syrian-Muslim) Neighbor as Yourself: Jesus and the Refugee

The lore about B-rate college professors is that they may spring a hack,  cliche Bible lesson upon their students:  The God of the Old Testament is angry and the God of the New Testament is loving or nice.  For everyone else who has actually read the Bible, the juxtaposition of God’s love and judgment exist through all 66 books as testimony to His true character and nature.

The so-called “angry” God of the Old Testament is described in the Law to Israel (a national theocracy at the time):  “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.  He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.   Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19, ESV).  Sojourners is translated as foreigners in the NIV.

The Law also declares the following:  “‘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, ESV)

There are many more Old Testament verses on the subject of the foreigner, the immigrant, the refugee.  Of course, the New Testament also has plenty of examples.  Jesus’ heart and ministry, in many ways, seem directed to the downtrodden or perhaps, the refugee. Relevant Magazine compiled a list of Scriptures (Old and New Testament) on this very topic here.

A raging debate is transpiring in our country over Syrian refugees.  Syria has been embroiled in a contentious civil war since 2011.  This 5 minute video highlights the major geopolitical issues in the region including the rebels fighting against dictator Bashir Assad and the many other groups with their own agendas.  A war that evolved out of the Arab Spring protests has now claimed more than 200,000 people‘s lives.  Maybe more by some estimates.

The Syrian civil war, which has drawn the sharp focus of the USA and Russia, has created a massive refugee crisis.  Understandably, many people are fleeing the appalling violence.  Families are trying to get their children to a safer place than their own home country.  Syrians are spending their life savings in order to pay human smugglers to get them to Europe or other places.  Smugglers have been known to pack makeshift boats full of refugees hoping for a better, and more peaceful, life elsewhere.  Estimates have hovered around 2,850 either losing their life or vanishing while attempting to cross the Mediterrean Sea.  The stories of what these desperate and hopeful travelers have gone through is sobering.

A lot of the European Union has allotted places for Syrian refugees into their societies.  Germany’s Angela Merkel has spent considerable political capital and even gone against the wishes of a broad polling swath of her own constituents to move to welcome 800,000 Syrian refugees into Germany at an estimated price tag of $6.6 billion dollars.  Facing immense political pressure, Merkel has acted courageously up to this point.

After the horrific attacks in Paris, many are concerned about the status of countries around the world accepting these wary travelers.  France’s President Francois Hollande has aggressively gone after the planners and organizers of the assault on Paris but beyond that, he has done something else.  He has announced to the world that France will continually accept Syrian refugees and placed the number at 30,ooo.

Where is the USA in all of this?  Republican Presidential Candidate and Senator Ted Cruz has introduced a bill to ban Syrian refugees except for Christians (a clear religious litmus test).  Republican Presidential Contender Rand Paul has bragged about holding the purse strings in Congress and wanting to cut off funding for refugees.  Republican Presidential Contender Jeb Bush has stated that refugees should ‘prove’ they are Christians before being allowed entrance.  Not to be outdone, Donald Trump, in the wake of the Paris attacks and Syrian refugee crisis, hinted at surveillance of mosques, bringing back waterboarding, and potentially having a national database of Muslims.  Certainly there is even more political reaction than this but a major news story this past week is that 31 governors have read statements that they do not want Syrian refugees coming to their states.  31!!!

Cynical, pandering politicians and fear-mongering media personalities are reaping harvests of paranoia across our nation.  Nevermind the vetting process that is already in place for refugees seeking asylum and forget about the basic facts that we really are only considering letting 10,000 Syrian refugees in (a number far less than Germany and other EU countries).  Another excellent blog post can be found on a conservative Virginia website here.

If the concern is over Syrian refugees coming to our country as terrorists (a possibility, admittedly, but vastly low odds), let’s think about a terrible aspect of our society. We already have lunatics, often armed with assault rifles, running around shooting people in movie theaters, schools and other public places.  So, why turn away war refugees who are seeking to escape the same ISIL extremists who carried out the attacks in Paris?  Especially when we know that the overwhelming majority of the refugees, if not 100%, are desperate people trying to scratch and claw their way to a better life for themselves and their families.

Many of the politicians stoking these fears and the people supporting them claim to be Christians.  Is this a Christ-like attitude toward impoverished war refugees?  When we read the gospels, we encounter Jesus advocating for the poor, the destitute, the oppressed, the prostitutes, the tax collectors and other downtrodden groups.  Jesus is often encountered standing up against religious bullies on behalf of those marginalized.

What would Jesus tell us about the refugee, fleeing brutal civil war violence and some of them spending everything they have to do so?  Let’s consider ‘The Sheep and the Goats’ parable from Matthew 25:41-46:  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This comes as a command to Christ-followers or all who would be inspired by Christ.  I realize there is nuance in this discussion.  When we discuss Christ’s kingdom, we are talking about a place that is transcendent to this world and a territory that has no border lines, no segregated neighborhoods, and a place where all of us (spiritual refugees in a real sense) have been extended an invitation to.  In the context of the USA or other earthly nations, we are speaking of a finite amount of space and resources.  There is also sophistication in realizing what Christians are called to do within the confines of a secular democracy that is not always going to act Christianly.  Indeed, there is an established separation of church and state.

That being said, the Syrian refugee crisis is a legitimate issue that believers should lobby government officials on providing sanctuary.  The United States of America is the richest nation in the history of the world.  There is plenty of room for those uprooted from their homes by civil war to become our cherished neighbors without any religious litmus test in a society which claims to value freedom.  Let them come as they are.  Prayerfully not just 10,000 but even more.

Jesus embraces the refugee and we should as well.  Christian philosophy never guarantees safety and doesn’t promise worldly comfort but asks us to look outward and beyond ourselves. First to love God and secondly (intrinsically connected to the first) to love our neighbor as ourselves.  This ideal should include our neighbors living thousands of miles away in the Middle East.

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About dangeroushope

Striving to follow Christ, love people and learn more about the world.
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