Terror, Refugees and Christianity

The world is experiencing a very difficult period in history. Events around the world have created terror and wreaked havoc upon the global community—and understandably so. On November 13, 2015, Paris experienced a terrorist attack that harkened back the dreadful memory of the 9/11 attack in America. In Paris, many people are either dead or wounded in places to experience art or other recreational activities.

In an effort to find who is responsible and how the guilty did this horrible act, many turned to the refugees fleeing Syria in mass exodus. “The terrorists got into France by posing as a refugee! The United States is not safe if we admit these refugees into our nation!” This reaction has lead Congress to begin moving legislation that would block the nation from allowing thousands of displaced refugees, primarily women and children, into the country. Republican presidential candidates are calling for only displaced Syrian Christians, refusing Muslims fleeing the wars in Syria. All of this coming, in large part, from people who self-identify as Christians.

To start think through this extremely complex issue, I want to run through an exercise with some verses from the Christian Bible. Christian political thinking must start from the sacred Christian text—which is deeply political.

First, here are some Old Testament texts that specifically deal with foreigners living in Israel. But to help us to think about this issue I’ve replaced “foreigner” from the NIV version with refugee in bold (if you keep in mind Israel’s story and why they fled to Egypt, refugee is an appropriate word to describe their migration) and italicized certain portions to draw your eyes to key phrases that will help understanding these texts.

“Do not mistreat or oppress a refugee, for you were refugees in Egypt.” — Exodus 22:21

“Do not oppress a refugee; you yourselves know how it feels to be refugees, because you were refugees in Egypt.” — Exodus 23:9

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the refugee. I am the Lord your God…Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. Keep my decrees…The refugee residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were refugees in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” — Leviticus 19:34

“Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you resided as refugees in their country”. — Deuteronomy 23:7

Israel fled to Egypt to survive the drought in Canaan. They were refugees. Thus the mean god of the Old Testament allows to refugees to flee to Israel and commands Israel to provide for them.

But there is more to be said, especially about what these Christians should do when they count some person or group their enemies. Again I replaced or put into parentheses and emboldened appropriate terms for this discussion as well as italicize certain phrases to help illuminate the application.

When the Lord takes pleasure in anyone’s way, he causes their enemies (ISIL) to make peace with them. — Proverbs 16:7

Blessed are the mercifulfor they will be shown mercy…Blessed are the peacemakersfor they will be called children of God. — Matthew 5:7, 9

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist [a terrorist]…You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate [ISIL].” But I tell you, love [ISIL] and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on [ISIL] and the good…If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. — Matthew 5:38-48

But to you who are listening I say: Love [ISIL], do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to [ISIL] as you would have them do to you. — Luke 6:27-30

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good…Bless those who persecute you [ISIL]; bless and do not curse…Live in harmony with one another (refugees and ISIL). Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position (refugees). Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone [terror] for [terror]. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (refugees and ISIL). Do not take revenge, my dear friends…On the contrary: “If [ISIL] is hungry, feed him; if [they are] thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by [terrorism], but overcome [terrorism] with good. — Romans 12:9-21

Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul put Christians in a very tough place—a place I don’t like at all. But the command is still there. Christians, no matter their occupation, are called to make peace.

The Apostle Paul wraps this up in the following passage from Galatians 5:13-14, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Consider these two points as you leave this post.  First, to “serve humbly” is to serve as if a slave from a heart of love, not hatred. And that love is defined by Leviticus 19:18 (cf. Jesus in Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-32) which has the context of loving foreigners/refugees. Second, Paul expounds what he means by “the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21. He mentions “hostilities” or “hatred” there. The hatred in Galatians 5 (exthra) comes from the same root as the word Jesus and Paul use for enemy (exthros/exthrous). To be an enemy to another person is to indulge in the flesh that Paul is railing against; it is contrary to the command to love.

If these politicians and political pundits, as Christians, want to refuse refugees into the United States (or any other nation for that matter), they need to rethink their strategy. If they want to deploy the military against the enemies of the United States, or call a leader who seeks diplomacy and peace talks instead of the military option, check the Bible again.

If you insist on anyone being your enemy, Jesus’ definition of love might give you some pause. It doesn’t matter they count you as their enemy; what matters is loving your enemy by serving them as if you were their slave.

~ by hankimler on November 21, 2015.

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