Welcoming refugees — what choice do we have?

Nov 18, 2015 by

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I don’t intend this article to be long. I don’t think it needs to be long. But it might end up being long. Here’s the thing: In reading through the gospels in the Bible, I notice something about what I see there. There are a lot of commandments there about caring for the poor, giving homes to those without, feeding the hungry, loving the “neighbor” when that neighbor may even be an enemy, and so on. But there is one thing there that I don’t see.

Nowhere does it say that in following Jesus and in doing all these things that you, your family, your loved ones, etc., will be safe. Nowhere does it say we have a responsibility to make sure that they are safe. Nowhere does Jesus say, “Do all this stuff, except where it might put your loved ones in harm’s way.” No. It does not say that anywhere. Ever.

What it does say is that, when we follow Jesus and do what we are supposed to do, we’ll have all sorts of people come after us, potentially to hurt and kill us. That we’ll be putting ourselves in harm’s way when we do what is right. And, even beyond that, we may even make enemies of those who are our friends and family. In fact, in the gospel of Luke, it goes one step further:

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even their own life — such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? (Luke 14:25-34 NIV)

Now, obviously, Jesus is not saying that we are actually supposed to hate those close to us. But when we follow Jesus, that is our all-consuming drive. We should be 100 percent invested in doing what he wants us to do. And, sometimes, that means doing things where we need to put others before our own family.

All over social media, the bombings in Beirut, Paris and other places have stirred up conversations about the refugees fleeing the violence in Syria. Threaded throughout these conversations, I frequently see statements to the effect that it is irresponsible and unloving to our friends, family and communities to welcome in refugees. Why? Because we’d be putting them in danger if we do so. We’d be raising the risk of a bombing happening in our own community. It’s better to just keep them at arm’s length. After all, how is it loving to my wife and kids to bring such danger into our midst?

And the practical, logical, rational person that I am wants to agree with that. I have a responsibility to my family and neighbors. I don’t want them hurt or killed. It just makes sense to stay safe. Err on the side of caution, right?

But, again, nowhere in the gospels does it say we get to make that decision. We are called, frequently, to put others above ourselves, especially when the others are hungry, lost, cold, homeless, afraid and in danger themselves. Matthew 25 is pretty clear that, when it comes time to give account, one of the criteria we’ll be measured against will be what we did in the face of human need. My family has a house. My community is, honestly, pretty well off. My friends have plenty of food and good jobs. They don’t have a need. But look at these pictures. Where is the need? Is the need here, for safety, for comfort, for living behind the walls of our country?

Or is the need in the eyes of these children, these mothers, these fathers, these families who have no place to go? The bombings in Paris are what they are trying to get away from, and it followed them. Why? Because that is exactly what the terrorists want — they want to prove to the world that we in the rich countries don’t care for them. And we, too frequently, prove them right. They want us to fear the refugees and hate them. And we are giving them exactly what they want.

I ask the question in the title of this article. What choice do we have? I’m pretty sure my wife and daughters want to be kept safe. And they do look to me to help make that happen. Is it loving to them to put them in danger? But here’s the thing. I know my family. And I know many of my neighbors and friends. And I know a lot of good people in my community. And, especially with regards to my family, they would think lesser of me if I didn’t show love to these people fleeing war. They will know we are Christians by our love. So, if I’m not loving these lost foreigners, how will they know I’m a Christian?

What choice do we have? We have the choice to live at risk, taking up the burden of potential death, and radically loving and serving those who may just want to kill me OR to barricade our communities behind the walls of caution, fear and disregard all for the sake of safety for people who have never known anything but safety.

What choice do I have? Here’s my choice, as I mentioned on my Facebook wall today:

I would rather be killed and accused of loving people too much in Jesus name than living and keeping people out in the name of safety.

I don’t think I have any other choice. I follow Jesus. And that is not safe.

Robert Martin blogs thoughts, reflections and stories regarding theology and the Christian walk at The Abnormal Anabaptist, where a version of this post originally appeared.


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