Who would have thought that just a month into the Trump presidency and the progressive left would be demanding our society ask itself what Jesus would do about foreign refugees? Apparently on some issues, that wall between church and state they’re always harping about is almost as porous as our southern border.
But before we get caught up in appropriating Jesus to our side of a political issue, I think it is important to be wary of those who prefer selective application of Biblical principle when it comes to the great moral issues of our day. If God’s word should inform our people how we should think and act relative to the plight of the immigrant or refugee (it should), it should also inform our people how we should think and act relative to race relations, abortion, pornography, and sexuality.
Those who demand Scriptural fidelity to one, but not another, are likely far more interested in twisting and manipulating the Bible to promote personal political agendas than they are understanding and properly applying Biblical values.
For instance, notice the glaring paradox that unfolds when progressive faith leaders on the left like Al Sharpton remind everyone that, “Jesus was a refugee.” Obviously, they are referencing the escape of Mary and Joseph to Egypt in the years shortly after the birth of Jesus. Making their case for an open-door refugee policy where the United States government places no restrictions on access to the country and its resources from those fleeing persecution in foreign lands, these progressives correctly note that Mary and Joseph sought refuge in a foreign country to escape the mass infanticide decree of King Herod.
What is peculiar about that is that the very same political movement citing this account of Scripture is the same one that has been adamantly demanding for a generation that the teachings of Jesus be stricken from the law so as to allow the continued legalization of mass infanticide.
That is not to say that all Biblical arguments relative to refugees are as flimsy. Progressive faith leaders often point to the admonition of Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” There’s no question that we are given a direct and unequivocal personal command to be hospitable to those in need. Coupled with the directives Jesus gives us personally in Luke 14 and in the parable of the Good Samaritan, living an inhospitable life lacking in personal compassion is simply irreconcilable with godly, Christian conduct.
It’s fair to assume that is why Christians, individually and collectively, remain the single greatest charitable giving force in the world by far. But when it comes to refugee policy we are contemplating more than just personal commands. We must endeavor to determine whether or not it is Biblically sound to apply such individual instructions to the work of civil government.
When famed evangelical Christian leader Franklin Graham articulated one perspective on this question saying, “We have to realize that the president’s job is not the same as the job of the church,” progressive Christian activist Shane Claiborne immediately criticized him. Claiborne tweeted in response: “No. It is theological malpractice to say that the president is exempt from the Sermon on the Mount or not accountable to Christ’s commands.”
But that isn’t what Graham said. He accurately affirmed that while all Christians are held to the same standard of private, personal morality, the Biblical expectations for ministers are different than those for government leaders. Far from heretical, such an understanding is essential to any logical, consistent reading of Scripture. Imagine the turmoil that would ensue, for instance, if we pretended the command of Jesus not to judge another (Matthew 7:1) applied to American courtrooms. Or consider the calamity if we assumed our instruction to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) was to be the national security policy of our civil government.
Claiborne’s failure to grasp this fairly obvious reality was perplexing until just days later when he again lashed out at Graham on the issue, this time in a very personal way. After Graham had offered his opinion that we lock our doors at night, “Not because you hate the people on the outside, but because you love the people on the inside,” Claiborne compared him to the villains in Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan. He chided, “As the religious folks turned a blind eye, the Samaritan was more concerned about the man in the ditch than himself.”
At this point I realized that Claiborne was far less concerned with understanding a Biblical approach to refugees than he was in grandstanding and attacking a fellow Christian publicly. After all, it takes an extraordinary amount of personal animus and tunnel vision to miss that Franklin Graham’s ministry literally does the work of the Good Samaritan all over the world, regardless of creed, nationality, or ethnicity.
Minds dedicated to Scriptural fidelity will ignore unserious voices such as Claiborne’s and instead work to contextually understand and apply God’s truth. We will ask whether it is responsible to extrapolate the teaching of Hebrews outward into a command on civil government.
To say that Christians have a duty to care for widows, orphans, the impoverished, and the endangered is unquestioned (by anyone) Biblical truth. To say that such care can only be provided by enacting open-door refugee policies that may or may not compromise the security of citizens (including widows, orphans, and the impoverished here at home) is an entirely different proposition. It’s a proposition that, to this point, does not appear to be supported by Scripture.
Peter Heck is a speaker, author and teacher. Follow him @peterheck, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.peterheck.com.
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