It was opening night of the Summer Olympics 2016. My then girlfriend, now wife, invited me to her apartment to join with some of her friends to watch the ceremonies and share a meal. Among those invited was a family, Syrian Kurds, who had been placed in Kansas City as part of the refugee resettlement program. Since they didn’t have a vehicle, we went over to their house to pick them up.
As the ladies finished getting ready, the father talked about how grateful he was to come to the United States to get needed medical treatments for his children (the doctors they had been seeing in Syria had fled the country due to ISIS), and for the chance to get away from the violence. ISIS hates his people as much as they hate Americans.
Though the father knew English decently well, the rest in the family did not. Throughout that night, there was a lot of Arabic spoken (including from my wife, a trait gained from her time with the IMB), so much of the conversation was beyond my non-Arabic-understanding ears. Yet, there was a sense of something special and God-ordained occurring.
You see, according to joshuaproject.net, the Syrian Kurds are an unreached people group with only 0.04% of the population being evangelical Christian, and that number unlikely to change anytime soon. Yet, here was a family from that people group who had little-to-no understanding of Christianity, sitting in an apartment filled with Christians, some of whom spoke Arabic, sharing a meal with them to build bridges for the love of Christ.
Fast-forward to today. President Trump is expected to sign an executive order that will indefinitely bar Syrian refugees from entrance into the United States. If that had been the policy of the previous administration, that family I spent the evening with would still have zero access to the gospel and no opportunity to hear of and experience the love of God through Jesus.
National security and the safety of United States citizens from Islamic terrorists is the mantra behind the pending order and much of the President’s rhetoric on the campaign trail. So, how should we as Christians in the United States think about this topic?
First, let’s consider what God says about the foreigners, immigrants, and refugees. Consider the following verses:
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
Let’s understand from the start that the United States is not God’s new chosen nation. So, the Law does not necessarily dictate foreign policy to us. But, there certainly is application to be had, especially for the Christian. As Jesus said in the Great Commandment: We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. That includes all of our neighbors, regardless of their background. Still more, we should have a special affinity to those who dwell among us as “sojourners.”
Not only were the forefathers of our faith strangers in Egypt, but we are present “sojourners and exiles” on the earth, even in our native country. This because we belong to a greater nation, an eternal Kingdom. And that Kingdom will be eternally filled not only with people from the United States, but from Israel, Mexico, Afghanistan, Syria, the United Kingdom, France, Iraq, Iran, Haiti, Zambia, and the list goes on and on and on (1 Peter 2:9-12, Revelation 7:9-10).
So, as Christians, we love our neighbor as ourselves. We treat them as one of us in terms of serving them and meeting their needs, including the immigrants and refugees who come to our national shores.
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 10:18-19
Learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause. -Isaiah 1:17
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me… Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me. -Jesus, Matthew 25:35-36, 40
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially those who are of the household of faith. -Galatians 6:10
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. -James 1:27
This is a battery of verses, and they all have one purpose: We are to seek to do good to everyone we can, and especially those who are suffering, mistreated, and in need. That is what these refugees are. They are not men and women, boys and girls, simply seeking to live elsewhere. They are people displaced, homeless, injured, frightened, and desperate. They are victims of injustices, violence, and war. They are the faces of people we are called to help and to plead their case.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. -Matthew 28:18
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb, clothed in white robes… -Revelation 7:9
Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm)… -Solomon’s prayer of dedication, 1 Kings 8:41-42
Our command as Christians is to go into all the world—the safe and the dangerous places, the receptive and the hard to reach—and make disciples from every people group we can. For in eternity, there will be men and women from all nations, standing before God’s throne, cleansed through the blood of Jesus, because they have heard the gospel and turned from their sins.
Present realities, however, prevent us from effectively reaching every people group. Should it surprise us, then, that the Sovereign God who has decreed he will save people from every tribe and tongue, brings such to our doorstep?–like with my wife’s Syrian refugee friends. It was a tiny, tiny chance that they would hear the gospel in their land. But here, they have Christians who have connected with them for the first time in their lives.
Should we not be willing to risk a degree of our safety to see people rescued from hell?
And safety—this leads to the second consideration: Yes, the government does have the duty to protect its people. Paul taught such in Romans 13—the government does not bear the sword in vain, it is to punish evil. So, as Christians, we should not be opposed to reasonable measures to ensure the protection of our fellow citizens from terrorist attacks.
But does that mean it is right to shut our doors indefinitely on Syrian refugees and at least temporarily on other refugees? Do such actions qualify as “reasonable measures”?
Let’s consider some stats. The following is from research by the Cato Institute:
Even so, these systems are surprisingly safe. According to a new Cato paper, from 1975 to the end of 2015, America allowed in just over 700,000 asylum-seekers and 3.25 million refugees. Four of those asylum-seekers became terrorists and killed four people in attacks on U.S. soil. Twenty of the 3.25 million refugees became terrorists and they killed three Americans on U.S. soil. Neither figure includes refugees or asylum-seekers who traveled overseas to become terrorists abroad as I was solely focused on terrorists targeting the homeland.
The chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by an asylum-seeker was one in 2.73 billion a year. The chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee is one in 3.64 billion a year.
The threat of a United States citizen dying in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee is virtually statistically non-existent. When it comes to Syrian refugees, specifically, the threat is low because the refugees undergo an extensive series of checks, more so than refugees from other nations, before they’re allowed entrance into the United States.
In other words, even without an executive order by President Trump barring such refugee entrance, the United States government has proven reliable in protecting its citizens from terror threats by refugees.
Refugees vetted and allowed into the United States have proven to not be a threat. Many of these refugees come from countries and people groups where access to the gospel is limited or non-existent. We have a Christian duty to love, evangelize, and meet the needs of such people. These refugees prove virtually no threat to our national safety. Therefore, we as evangelical Christians should stand in opposition to President Trump’s desire to bar these refugees.
It’s popular for evangelicals to think about the United States as being a Christian beacon throughout our history. God tells us to care for the poor, the needy, and the foreigner as a shining light in the darkness. When we let misplaced fear regarding refugees detract us from that mission of care, our Christ-exalting beacon dims.