Tabitha McDuffee, Founder, faithandforcedmigration.com
There is so much in Scripture to support welcoming refugees and having compassion toward strangers, that it should be easy to talk about refugees with Christians. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many Christians are unaware that Bible addresses displacement, or they are more concerned with the position of their political party than the position of God’s Word concerning refugees. This requires us to know our audience and speak in a way that will pique their interest and hold their attention.
So far in this series we have discussed general principles for talking about refugees, how to talk about refugees on social media, and how to talk about them with children. Today we’ll look at the most important things to consider when talking about refugees with Christians. If you haven’t yet read the post on general principles for talking about refugees, I would highly recommend reading that and then coming back to this article.
Determine Their Primary Identity
Most people identify themselves in several different ways. They might at various times define themselves according to their job or vocation (doctor, businessman, etc.), their relationships (husband, mother, grandparent, etc.), their political party, or religious affiliation. Knowing which of these identities is the most important to a person will help you speak to them about refugees in a way that will resonate with them. Though we may hope that biblical and theological reasons would be sufficient to persuade any Christian to welcome and care for refugees, in many cases you may find that political, economic, or social arguments are actually far more effective. This is because, often without realizing it themselves, these things may be more important to someone than their Christian faith.
Never Take Scripture Out of Context
If you do decide it will be most effective to focus on the biblical arguments for welcoming refugees when speaking with a Christian individual or group, never take Scripture out of context. There is so much support for welcoming refugees in the Bible; we do not need to twist it or misinterpret it to make it speak even more positively about refugees.
One example of the misinterpretation of Scripture that I have seen over and over recently is based on Matthew 25:31-46. I have heard countless individuals and seen many organizations use this passage as a call to action for the Church to care for the poor, to welcome refugees, and to embrace the marginalized. And while these ways of acting are indeed biblical, they are not what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 25. These verses are referring to suffering believers and indicate that our salvation will be judged based on our response to the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is proclaimed by his followers. For a more complete understanding of how this passage should correctly be interpreted, I would highly recommend this article. The implication is that the only time when it might be appropriate to use this passage to persuade Christians to welcome refugees is if we are talking exclusively about refugees who are persecuted Christians.
Don’t Contradict Yourself
Another common mistake I have seen well-meaning refugee advocates make may end up being a major stumbling block to Christians. When speaking with Christians about why they should welcome refugees, the safety of the U.S. refugee resettlement program inevitably comes up. The response to these concerns usually has two parts. First, the speaker or advocate cites some statistics proving the safe track record of the resettlement program. Second, they remind the believer that the Bible commands us over and over not to be afraid, so believers must set their fears aside to welcome refugees. Each of these arguments are fantastic by themselves, but together they contradict each other and threaten to weaken a Christian’s faith, rather than strengthening it.
The Bible does command us not to be afraid, but in most cases, it is in the face of great danger, not relative safety. God commands Joshua not to fear before sending him and the Israelites into battle (Joshua 1:9). Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid, right after promising them that they will be persecuted and perhaps even killed for preaching the gospel (Matthew 10:26-33). The reason a Christian is able to lay aside his or her fear is not because there is nothing to fear. On the contrary, there may be something to be very afraid of! However, we have a God who is greater than any danger or anything that might happen to us in this life. So, when we remind believers what the Bible says about fear, right after assuring them that the refugee resettlement program is perfectly safe, we may be encouraging them to place their faith in man-made vetting systems, rather than in God. God commands us to welcome refugees without fear, and his commands will not change, even if a refugee were to commit a terrorist attack on U.S. soil tomorrow.
Focus on Theological Principles, Rather Than Individual Verses
The words “foreigner” and “stranger” are used quite a few times in Scripture. However, most of these occurrences are in the Old Testament, in the books of the Bible that lay out the many rules the Israelites had to follow, in order to be right with God. It can be difficult to understand and communicate why these commands still apply to Christians today. There is also a limit to what these individual verses can convey about the importance of welcoming refugees. So, instead of only focusing on individual verses, it may be helpful to speak in terms of broader theological principles.
For example, God’s eternal purpose is to be worshipped by people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and believers are called to join him in pursuit of this goal by sharing the gospel. Welcoming refugees is a wonderful opportunity to share the gospel with people who might have never heard the name of Jesus otherwise. Another applicable theological principle is the incarnation. Jesus left heaven and came to earth as a stranger to make us, strangers, and enemies of God, part of his family. We are called to act in the same way to welcome and befriend those who are different from us.
Finally, when we talk about refugees with Christians, we must be patient. For many of the people we are talking with, this may be the first time they are hearing what the Bible says about refugees. They may have never before heard that one of the overarching theological themes in Scripture involves physically and spiritually displaced people being welcomed by God. Don’t try to convince someone of your way of seeing things in just one conversation. Build a relationship with them over time, invite them to learn with you what God’s word says about welcoming the stranger, and walk together as you learn to live out that welcome in tangible ways.
Memphis immigration Project exists to engage issues of Immigration from a biblical perspective.