Five Things for Christians to Remember When Discussing Refugees: A Message from Executive Director Chris Purnell

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Refugees at Refugee Adjustment Day 2015

As governors continue to erect legally questionable verbal barriers to their borders in the wake of the Paris terror tragedy, Christians need to remember their roots. In the midst of a rational fear, at best, and good old-fashioned xenophobia, at worst, Christians need to be constantly reminded of what Scripture tells us about vulnerable people and what the call of the Christian is. Here are five things I’ve been reminding myself of lately from my vantage point as the Executive Director of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, as a husband and father, and as an elder of a church.

     1. Remember the facts.

Refugees aren’t terrorists. Lawyers rarely make unqualified statements like this, but in this case it is warranted. Further, the statistical likelihood of a refugee committing a terrorist act is so small that it should not show up on our radar as a credible fear. During my time at the Clinic, we’ve assisted thousands of refugees, and let me assure you that refugees go through extremely rigorous screening. We can let FBI Director Comey and Attorney General Lynch engage in their kerfuffle at the moment. See these very helpful sites for more information:

http://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/refugees

http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/219137.pdf

http://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/refugees/questions-answers-refugees

     2. Remember that fear is rarely seen as a positive in Scripture.

But let’s say the facts were somewhat different. What would that mean for Christians wanting to help vulnerable and beleaguered refugees fleeing persecution? Fear does come up in Scripture. However, it is seen only as a good thing if you are in fear of God. Psalm 111:10 famously says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” To fear God is, indeed, wise. He is powerful and holy and good. The Scripture also tells us that to fear anything else is, by contrast, unwise. The injunction “fear not” appears over 80 times in the Bible. While it is natural to be afraid of things that may be able to harm us, Psalm 56:11 sums up the Christian claim nicely: “in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” As Gandalf said to Frodo in that wonderful book of theology, The Lord of the Rings, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.” Even a prosaic existence is dangerous. But our trust is in God, after all.

April 2015

Chris Purnell

     3. Remember that evil is not “out there.”

In the midst of this caustic debate, it is easy for us to divide the world into safe people and dangerous people. Ironically, history tells us this tendency itself is dangerous. It is also just bad theology. St Paul makes this point throughout the first three chapters of Romans and he ends with that rallying cry of our universal danger to ourselves and others: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, who suffered in the gulags of Soviet Russia, said that “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.” To view any class of people with generalized suspicion is questionable. To vilify victims is deplorable and, at the end, simply wrong.

     4. Remember that God loves the immigrant and so should you.

The immigrant, or the “stranger” or “alien” as Scripture puts it, has always been vulnerable. And, as an aside, there’s always been a high risk of taking in an immigrant.“ This isn’t the first time that there have been warring people groups. Immigration entails risk—both for the immigrant and the receiving nation. And yet, God called Israel to “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). Love for the immigrant stems from our love of God—and, more importantly, God’s love for us. And this even before our era of biometrics and background checks.

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Refugees on Refugee Adjustment Day 2015

     5. Remember the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Jesus tells this story of a man beaten, robbed, and unceremoniously left for dead in a ditch by robbers or, as one commentator states, “political zealots or what we might call terrorists today” (Darrell Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, pg. 1029). Two religious folks, a priest and a Levite, infamously walk by on the other side. They probably had some very reasonable justifications for not helping this victim of robbery and terror—they may have even feared that the victim was play-acting and that they could be victimized while helping him, a tactic that was used even in that time.

But the Samaritan, himself a marginalized person, took the risk that these holy men did not. And, in a way, all helping of neighbors, whether here or those seeking shelter here, entails risk. Right now, our politicians are asking and answering the question, “Who is my neighbor?” just like the lawyer who is told the parable. Right now, we’re asking and answering that same question. Jesus’ response was to call his disciples to be a neighbor.

As we pray for Syria and for those fleeing persecution, and as we think through our response as Christians to these latest acts of terror, may we respond in a manner that reflects Christian Scripture. May we respond not simply as political beings, but as disciples of Jesus, who gave every last measure for the sake of us all.

Until Justice and Peace embrace,

Chris Purnell e-sig Black 2015

 

 

Chris Purnell