On refugees, security and faith…

This is a post that has been bubbling in the back of my brain for a few weeks now. Well before the attacks in Paris, I’d been thinking about the question of Christian faith and our attitudes and treatment around refugees. This started when I first a saw a question posed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel,

“You are doing a lot to help refugees, what are you doing to protect our Christian values?”

The question implicitly seems to assume two things are in opposition – helping refugees and the protection of Christian values. I understand the fear behind the question, if we flood the country with people who have different beliefs, different values will our own be watered down or threatened?

Mike Huckabee expressed a similar sentiment in mid-September, saying,

“Are they really escaping tyranny, are they escaping poverty, or are they really just coming because we’ve got cable TV? I don’t meant to be trite. I’m just saying: We don’t know.”

His solution was to keep all the refugees in the Middle East with US non-profits providing some measure of voluntary monetary assistance,

“That’s not a lack of Christian charity. It’s the essence of charity, to provide for needs, but not to put your own children at risk, if what you’re importing could be people who have a nefarious purpose for wanting to be here.” (via)

Is that really the essence of Christian love – to help others at a distance, in the easiest, less engaging way possible, while preserving your own security? Because that is not my understanding of Christianity.

Here is my understanding of Christianity when it comes to how we treat refugees, immigrants and strangers:

Don’t mistreat or oppress an immigrant, because you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt. 
Exodus 22:21

Just in case it wasn’t understood the first time, here it is again:
Don’t oppress an immigrant. You know what it’s like to be an immigrant, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt.
Exodus 23:9 

Oh, by the way those benefits you enjoy, like resting on a regular basis? Make sure everyone is included in that:
Do your work in six days. But on the seventh day you should rest so that your ox and donkey may rest, and even the child of your female slave and the immigrant may be refreshed.
Exodus 23:12

Take care of the refugees and immigrants (and no complaining about taking care of the homeless or veterans first, we should help them too):
Also do not pick your vineyard clean or gather up all the grapes that have fallen there. Leave these items for the poor and the immigrant; I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:10

Give everyone a fair shake, the rule of law should apply to everybody in the land:
When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:33-34

God loves immigrants, so should you:
So circumcise your hearts and stop being so stubborn, because the Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:16-19

Invite them to the party:
Celebrate your festival: you, your sons, your daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites, the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows who live in your cities.  
Deuteronomy 16:14

Don’t take away their rights:
Don’t obstruct the legal rights of an immigrant or orphan. Don’t take a widow’s coat as pledge for a loan. 
Deuteronomy 24:17

Don’t exploit, don’t mistreat:
The Lord proclaims: Do what is just and right; rescue the oppressed from the power of the oppressor. Don’t exploit or mistreat the refugee, the orphan, and the widow. Don’t spill the blood of the innocent in this place.  
Jeremiah 22:3

In case you missed it all the times is has already been mentioned:
The Lord of heavenly forces proclaims:
Make just and faithful decisions; show kindness and compassion to each other! Don’t oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor; don’t plan evil against each other!  
Zechariah 7:9-10

Story time! Who is my neighbor and who is the good guy in the story the religious leader who does nothing or the enemy who does something?

But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” 
Luke 10:29-37

Just in case there was a question to the limits God’s mercy, Jesus crossed borders and interacted with the outcasts:
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”
When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
Luke 17:11-19

And the example of Jesus isn’t a love rooted in self-preservation and security, but one rooted in a willingness to sacrifice. (And if you want to put limits or conditions around who are these friends you should give up your life for, start at the top and start reading again):
This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:12-13

Important lesson in this one, this is NOT about how we now have a license to eat bacon and shrimp (as delicious as those things are), this is about people, as the context makes perfectly clear. Go to Cornelius, even though he is a foreigner, and on the side of those who routinely brutalizes Jews and Christians:
Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted to eat. While others were preparing the meal, he had a visionary experience. He saw heaven opened up and something like a large linen sheet being lowered to the earth by its four corners. Inside the sheet were all kinds of four-legged animals, reptiles, and wild birds. A voice told him, “Get up, Peter! Kill and eat!”

Peter exclaimed, “Absolutely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
The voice spoke a second time, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” This happened three times, then the object was suddenly pulled back into heaven.
Peter was bewildered about the meaning of the vision. Just then, the messengers sent by Cornelius discovered the whereabouts of Simon’s house and arrived at the gate. Calling out, they inquired whether the Simon known as Peter was a guest there.
While Peter was brooding over the vision, the Spirit interrupted him, “Look! Three people are looking for you. Go downstairs. Don’t ask questions; just go with them because I have sent them.”
So Peter went downstairs and told them, “I’m the one you are looking for. Why have you come?”
They replied, “We’ve come on behalf of Cornelius, a centurion and righteous man, a God-worshipper who is well-respected by all Jewish people. A holy angel directed him to summon you to his house and to hear what you have to say.” Peter invited them into the house as his guests.
The next day he got up and went with them, together with some of the believers from Joppa. They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Anticipating their arrival, Cornelius had gathered his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in order to honor him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Get up! Like you, I’m just a human.” As they continued to talk, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them, “You all realize that it is forbidden for a Jew to associate or visit with outsiders. However, God has shown me that I should never call a person impure or unclean. For this reason, when you sent for me, I came without objection.
Acts 10:9-29

Paul gets it:
Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.
Romans 12:13-21

Now here’s the thing, that I’m willing to admit. Not only am doing some proof-texting, I’m also doing a little cherry picking here. There are plenty of Old Testament verses that I (or someone else) could pull that talk about God’s commands to keep the nation “pure” – just take at David’s military exploits for a few points of reference, so I’ll admit that my case isn’t perfect. But I believe the weight of scripture leans towards a position of welcome and acceptance, even when that welcome and acceptance comes at a personal cost. We must be willing to risk and willing to love, because that is who Jesus is and it is who we are called to be.

If your faith is threatened by what your new neighbor might think or say, maybe the problem isn’t their existence, but your faith. In the early days of Christianity, our fore-fathers and fore-mothers faced imprisonment, stoning, and being fed to lions and yet the faith persevered. And today Christians find themselves threatened by a small migration of refugees and the lack of decoration on coffee cups… really?!

The violence is real. The risk is real. (Although I’d argue the risk is far less than what some would like you to believe). I get that. But at the heart of the Bible is a simple command given over and over again, “Fear not!” Our calling is to let go of fear, trust in God, and live in love. To even love those people who seem to be unlovable, even the ones who might do us harm.

I know that’s a hard command. I know it is far easier to write a stupid blog post and talk about it in the abstract than really do it. I know I don’t do it so well myself. But I do think it is what the Christian faith calls us to do.

This week, I’ve been re-reading Steven Pressfield’s book on creativity called The War of Art. A section that really struck me the other day was Pressfield’s notion that creativity is inhibited by fear and fear breads fundamentalism. Here’s what he writes:

Fundamentalism is the philosophy of the powerless, the conquered, the displaced and the dispossessed. Its spawning ground is the wreckage of political and military defeat, as Hebrew fundamentalism arose during the Babylonian captivity, as Christian fundamentalism appeared in the American South during Reconstruction, as the notion of the Master Race evolved in Germany following World War I. In such desperate times, the vanquished race would perish without a doctrine that restored hope and pride. Islamic fundamentalism ascends from the same landscape of despair and possesses the same tremendous potent appeal. (pg. 34)

I guess the question I have is, in the face of conflict, in the face of terror, do we hold on to a faith that calls us to love and welcome and stranger in an act of revolutionary defiance, or to do cower, succumb to the fundamentalism of desperation and exclusion, drawing lines in the sand between insiders and outsiders, and responding to violence with more violence?

Politicians and talking heads can make the case that we need to lock down the borders. Maybe there are sound political or economic reasons for doing so, but let us be clear that it is hard (if not impossible) to make that case based on a foundation of Christian ethics.