Discussing
Jesus was a refugee

Kent Van Til

Kent Van Til
November 17, 2015

Christian theology demands that we accept Syrian - and yes, Muslim - refugees.

Sander De Haan
November 18, 2015

You are absolutely right, Kent. Thank you for this article.

Cory Hentgen
November 18, 2015

I understand your theological basis for this article. However, we are dealing with a whole different issue here. It is reported that some of the Paris attackers posed as refugees to get into France. It is also reported that some were contained in Turkey that wanted to infiltrate Germany to carry out terrorism. Officials are having a hard time differentiating official documents from false ones. Can we actually vet everyone coming into this country? The Fort Hood attacker was fully vetted. Yes, Jesus was a refugee in Egypt. However, I think we need to provide a safe haven for them until we can identify the bad apples. Can we honestly say a bad apple can't get through. Say we have a jar of peanuts and only 10% are deadly if eaten. Would you take a handful?

Kent VanTil
November 18, 2015

Of course. As I mentioned once if not twice, the refugees must be checked and vetted. But let's turn the proportions around. Say there are 79,999 good Syrians who want to come to the U.S. Will you deny them all entrance for fear of the one?

DaveElbourne
November 18, 2015

It depwnds on your worldview. Most of the terrorists were French born. So by just saying stop the refugees are you saying you trust God to protect you from those born in your country but not those from another country.
Anybody who enters your country could be a terrorist, why pick on those trying to escape those terrorists in their own land.
Don't let fear rule. Love casts out fear!

Steve
November 18, 2015

Mr. Til,

All well and good. But you conveniently forget and overlook a very important caveat' - those "foreigners,strangers and aliens" were also expected to observe the customs and the laws of the nation of Israel. To that extent, as long as they did so, they were considered to be in good standing and were to be treated fairly and justly and not to be taken advantage of - yet they, as aliens and strangers among God's people also had some obligations - they were also subject to the same cultural and civil mandates and regulations as all the other Israelites as well. They were to observe the law and its various requirements and statutes too. As Ex. 12:49 clearly states - “The same law applies to the native-born and the alien living among you."

To that extent, I agree - but Jesus, as your heading says was not a refugee in the modern usage of that term and to twist the Scriptures to say that, is disingenuous on your part.

Kent VanTil
November 19, 2015

The refugees who come here will certainly be expected to abide by our laws. In fact, they may well be held to a higher standard of behavior than most since they will be suspected as dangerous.
Jesus was a refugee. Clearly there are differences that a 2,000 year gap would create. But the analogy holds.

Pamela Haddix
November 19, 2015

I have been seeing articles citing Syrians that say we should be very careful as a fake document is very easy procur in Syria, also that we are not very wise if we don't think that ISIS isn't embedded within the influx of refugees. So that is from people who know, what should we do with that information?

Doug Vande Griend
November 19, 2015

So I am curious. If, as you say, Kent, that "Christian theology demands we [the US government presumably] accepts these refugees," how do you defend against the charge of being Reconstructist (Ala Rushdooney, North, etc al)?

Reconstructionists would love that statement, and then apply it in all kinds of ways that would destroy the political pluralism enjoyed (to an extent yet at least) in the US?

KentVan Til
November 19, 2015

Interesting that you should bring up "Reconstructionists." I remember them as wanting to establish biblical and even OT law as the law of the land. I don't make that argument. I see how God treated the aliens throughout Scripture and see it as an analogy and guide for the way in which we should treat them today.

John Blake
November 19, 2015

We are to be as wise as serpents but gentle as doves. Need to remember the wise part.

Cyndy Warnier
November 20, 2015

I took this devotion and shared it with our small group last night. There wasn't a person in the room that didn't appreciate the reminder of Jesus as refugee, and they agreed, due diligence--something our government is extremely poor at, and we know this well in Arizona because of our porous border with the drug cartels and 9/11 criminals who were on a watch list and just walked into our country!--we do need to be wise. But to be exclusive out of fear? No way. We know as Christians what we're supposed to do and be - Phil. 2, "shine like stars" and when I hear politicians spew their fear or even become fearful (which I think mostly is to gain favor with constituents--it's all about staying in office you know) I fear our testimonies which come from our faith-walk in all we do and say is a bit tarnished and shame on us. Can we not follow God's direction and trust that he is in the midst of all this? O ye, of little faith!!

Doug Vande Griend
November 20, 2015

Kent: But do you distinguish between "we" as people who live in the US from the US government? God teaches us not to take his name in vain and not to covet, and citizens do well to obey. That is "Christian theology," as you say, so does that not also demand that government should command its citizens not to take his name in vain and not to covet? That would be the analogy.

Reconstructionism isn't so much a theory about Christian living (that is, how Christians should live), as it is a theory about what government is and should do. Reconstructionists would say "amen" to your assertion, "Christian theology demands we accept these refugees" for the simple reason that it draws a straight line, even if by analogy, between OT and the mandate for government today. So how does your stated principle avoid reconstructionism -- it is the basic premise of reconstructionism. After all, taking in refugees is initially a government, and only a government act.

To put it in Jim Skillen language (from the Scattered Voice), how do you differentiate the role of government from other roles within a particular society? If we simply take OT Israel as our source of analogy, then certainly government should prohibit taking God's name in vain, not?

Caleb Schut
November 20, 2015

Per the Economist, "750,000 refugees have been resettled in America since 9/11. Not one has been arrested on domestic terrorism." Refugees are statistically more unlikely to commit violent behavior. France expanded the number of refugees it is resettling after the attacks in Paris. Refusing to accept victims of war is an act of surrender to those imposing the war. Nothing is more American than welcoming the refugee. Nothing is less American than surrender.

Most non-religious Americans are open to resettling refugees. You can make an argument for accepting refugees without reference to scripture/theology.

IT IS APPALLING, that Americans who do make use of scripture and Christian theology end up somehow being less open to the refugee. Forget proof-texting and pulling individual scriptures out in reference to welcoming the stranger, the entire Bible is about a people on the run without a home, and a God who is ALWAYS on the side of the oppressed.

Christians are those whose self-preservation always takes a back seat to the command of Christ to love the foreigner. Fear is a human emotion...it makes sense. Allowing our fears and self-preserving tendencies to make our decisions for us is not Christian. Perfect love casts out all fear. Not some. All.

You don't need to be Christian to see that accepting refugees is the right call. It's so sad that being Christian makes you less likely to welcome the world's least.

Doug Vande Griend
November 20, 2015

I'm not at all certain, Caleb, "that Americans who do make use of scripture and Christian theology end up somehow being less open to the refugee." I've checked the internet for polling on that an simply can't find it. I can find that there is a political party divide, but not what you claim.

Nor do I think it is true that "Most non-religious Americans are open to resettling refugees." To the extent existing statistical polls shed light on that, I think it is untrue, unless of course you intend to not claim much in your use of the phrase, "open to."

Even if the government goes ahead with the administration's plan, I think it is estimated that 18 to 24 months are required to vet the applicants, assuming vetting can be meaningfully accomplished. Doesn't sound like much of a gracious plan is possible (waiting 18 to 24 months!) even if the decision to allow admission is made.

There is a wealthy Coptic Christian to has plans to buy an island (from Greece or Turkey I think) and use that for refugees. That could be a better kind of approach. There is also the suggestion that in 18 to 24 months, the US has the ability -- which may correlate with good foreign policy to boot -- to restore some degree of civility in Syria, in which case many of these would-be refugees can live in their own land, perhaps even where they came from.

This is a complicated issue. It seems to me that we are letting it become another either-or cause for condemnation and political (religious?) division, when it really should not be. And I don't think that comes from any particular point of view, religious or otherwise. Election year events are nearly in full swing after all.



Holly Teitsma
November 20, 2015

Thank you, Caleb. I was going to comment, and still will, but you said most of what I would have said.

Holly Teitsma
November 20, 2015

Dr. Van Til, your blog reminds me of this quote: “The Lord commands us to do good unto all men [sic] without exception, though the majority are very undeserving when judged according to their own merits... [The Scripture] teaches us that we must not think of man's real value, but only of his creation in the image of God to which we owe all possible honor and love” (John Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life). And your responses to others here are helpful distillations of a theological stance on the issue.

So many of the arguments against accepting refugees (these or those from Central America) seem to be about safety. But is safety the outcome we seek as Christians? We follow a Man who went to the cross. That’s not a safe consequence. It’s not secure. And it’s certainly not practical. At least it’s not safe or practical for life in this world.

God says to Paul, “My grace is enough for you,” (2 Cor 12:19 [CEB]). Out that grace-based relationship with God, we have utter freedom to extend grace to others in the form of kindness, life-giving resources, hospitality, touch, justice, and love. Our lives are already hidden in Christ. We have nothing to fear.

If I seeking only my own or my tribe’s safety, then I am not being mindful of the ground on which my existence rests. I acknowledge that, as with current events, safety as an ethical issue in Christianity is a bit more complicated than that. Safety as a means of maintaining God’s will to life is one thing, such as it would be if we were to keep an IS member from shooting up an elementary school. But that safety must be distributed within a rightly-ordered understanding of who's who in our relationship with God and with each other. It must be based on a grace-is-enough economy. That means my tribe, my children (which I should point out that I do not have), my stuff gets no preferential treatment, but it also does not have to give in to injustice, unless to do so in some way actually is an act of reordering toward justice, as with the cross.

As for the Reconstructionist argument, I'm no logician, but that seems to be a bit of a straw-man. This, for one, is a Christian website. There is an assumption that those who are writing are writing from and into a Christian worldview. Christians can support or reject a government (or neighbor's or colleague's) objective without saying that the government/neighbor/colleague should support and uphold all Christian values. Or maybe I'm misunderstanding your argument, Doug.

Doug Vande Griend
November 21, 2015

Holly: Reconstructionists (also called Theonomists) are quite Christian, even from the Calvinist tree, historically speaking. They believe government should rather strictly implement God's law. They are not political pluralists (aka principled pluralists, as Center for Public Justice calls it).

The reason I see the logic expressed here as similar to that of Reconstructionism is because scriptural passages that are probably directed to individuals (like 'turn the other cheek') are being presumed to be mandates for government. That is a reconstructionist approach, and if adopted, would work against political pluralism.

Hence my questions. I would argue that before we too quickly take a scriptural passage and conclude government should do as that passage, or analogy of the passage, directs, we need to first determine what the differentiated task of government is. It may well be that you and I are to show mercy when government is to do justice (that is, not show mercy), because the government has a task and responsibility that is differentiated from your and my task as individuals. This is a rather mainstream sort of thinking for those who give respect to Abraham Kuyper's theory of "sphere sovereignty."

Kent VanTil
November 23, 2015

A move toward the Reconstructionists is not what I intended, nor do I believe it is necessary, or even advisable.
The government is in the business of doing justice. As Christians we have a divinely inspired picture of what justice can and should look like. Thus it would seem irresponsible for Christians to let injustice occur without calling the governments of the nations that we are a part of to that divinely inspired goal/pattern/practice.
This is hardly the equivalent of establishing OT law in N America.
In fact, one way of seeing ISIS might be as Islamic reconstructionists, who demand to institute the shariah law of 7th century Arabia into modern states. In no way do I think that caring for orphans and foreigners, which I call for, is equivalent to their call to enstate and enforce an ancient penal code.

I do not plan to follow up further on this line.

Jim Laney
November 29, 2015

These are not refugees; people looking for temporary shelter. They are settlers, economic immigrants. It involves a different set of principles.

Tanya Steele
December 17, 2016

Thank you. Loved this article.

Jim
December 17, 2016

I disagree we need to separate the role of government versus the role of the individual and the role of the Christian. As Christians, if we come across refugee we should be prepared to share the hope that lies within us with gentleness and respect, however as a nation our government should be protecting us from all enemies foreign and domestic, that too is biblical. Romans 13:4 et al

Jeff
December 17, 2016

Nice try, but your premise is non compatible in scope, situation and culture of the day. It appears you are embarking on the WWJD philosophy and ignoring the actual trials and tribulations of this day. Countries did not have borders as they do today and even Europe is more like state to state travel. It appears you are trying way to hard to justice a singular modern day, school of thought to make a political point to your liking. It has shown as a constant MO on this site.

Add your comment to join the discussion!