by Rod D. Martin
February 22, 2017
As Donald Trump – keeping his most central campaign promise – has forced immigration and refugee resettlement to the center of debate, Christians have had a lot to say. Most support the President’s plans, particularly his temporary order regarding entry from just seven countries (out of 50 countries with a Muslim majority) legally designated by Barack Obama as terror states, an order designed to allow the government time to reassess current vetting practices and improve security.
Some Christian leaders, however, have been quite vocal in their opposition, scolding their brethren with passages about loving our enemies, welcoming strangers and showing mercy to those in need (all good things aside from the scolding). Many have asked “What Would Jesus Do?” as though Jesus had somewhere expressly commanded “thou shalt never give thought to your family’s physical safety.” One gentleman I spoke with cited the Good Samaritan in “mic drop” fashion, without any further argument whatsoever.
Little if any of this addressed – or acknowledged any need to address – questions regarding whether our government is currently capable of “vetting” the migrants to screen out likely terrorists (the FBI has testified before Congress that it cannot). Suggestions that even many nonviolent refugees actively oppose the very idea of Western civilization and wish to abolish our liberties were frequently cast aside as mere bigotry.
Now I have spent a lifetime supporting immigration and refugee resettlement. But still, the questions hereby raised deserve answers. And the failure even to ask them is anti-intellectual and, frankly, anti-Biblical.
Take for instance the Good Samaritan argument. I am certainly not suggesting that the Good Samaritan is inapplicable. But as in all things, context counts. The Good Samaritan had only his own safety to consider. He did not have his family — or his country — in tow. And the Jew on the side of that road was wounded and unarmed (having just been attacked by what to him must have seemed like terrorists): like most refugees America has taken in previously, he posed little threat to the Samaritan, the parable about whom has a different point altogether.
Indeed, given that difference, it seems a good place to start quoting Scripture might be this: “[Jesus] said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” (Luke 22:36)
This is clearly not the pure pacifism — nor pure turn-the-other-cheek — that is so often mistakenly attributed to our Lord. Jesus specifically commanded His disciples to prioritize self-defense even over their most basic necessities. We can argue about when one should or should not defend oneself. What we cannot argue is that Jesus prohibited doing so, even while on mission. And this is all the more true when it comes to protecting others in our charge. Jesus chose for Himself the moniker “Good Shepherd” and labeled pastors “shepherds” as well.
The first duty of a shepherd is to protect the flock from predators.
Or perhaps we might interact with this. I Tim. 5:8 is often quoted with regard to income, but “provision” is clearly more than that. It reads “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
The Word draws a distinction between the obligation toward one’s own family or people and that toward someone far off, despite the fact that they are certainly “one’s neighbor.” I have covenanted to protect my wife, and by extension my children, with a self-maledictory oath. Magistrates (such as Presidents) covenant with a similar oath, invoking God as their witness, to protect their citizens with the sword. Foreigners are certainly our neighbors. But my legitimate oath-bound obligations clearly take priority.
Similarly, God’s treasury is big enough to provide for all flesh. The U.S. government may think its treasury is also, but with only 4% of global population and a penchant for printing money (violating God’s laws concerning honest weights and measures, by the way), that belief seems more like pride than truth. I doubt most would think me wise if I tried to move 10 Syrian families into my guest room, much less 20 or 30. God does not expect us to do more than is permitted by the resources He provides. “Sacrifice” beyond a certain point is recklessness and hubris.
So given our inherent finitude, there must be some limit. And yet these well-intentioned souls continually refuse to offer any standard by which to determine one, or even to permit the suggestion that one exists. All such discussion is automatically decried as “lacking compassion,” even while the speakers apply poorly reasoned, ill-defined “moral obligations” to millions.
But back to the point: failing to provide for one’s own house is denying the faith and being worse than an infidel. That provision necessarily includes not only stewardship but reasonable protection — in line with Jesus’s own counsel to His disciples — and while I am at some liberty to gamble with my own life — and indeed am obligated to lay down my life for the sake of those for whom I am bound by oath to protect — I am certainly not at liberty to act recklessly with regard to the lives of others, and particularly those weaker ones in my care.
This is not an argument against accepting immigrants or refugees. But it does necessitate that questions be asked, and answered with intellectual seriousness and more Biblical authority than “Jesus wants us to be nice.”
Another important question is raised by Psalm 82:4 “Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.”
This is repeatedly cited as a commandment to take in refugees, and in some circumstances I’m sure that it is. But must it not also be a command to protect my innocent baby granddaughter from a pack of military-aged Islamists pretending to be refugees? And to which of these do I have the greater obligation?
Or how about Ezekiel 33:6: “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand.”
Indeed He will.
Then of course there’s the entire Book of Nehemiah, which would have to be labeled some sort of “Satanic Verses” (an actual feature of the Koran, but not to my knowledge of the Bible) if we are to accept this “Kum Ba Yah” exegesis.
This takes us back to all sorts of related issues. During any of the several sieges of Jerusalem, would it have been lawful for a Jew (or later, a Christian) to open the city gates to allow in Roman or Babylonian or Assyrian “refugees”? Of course not, and the reason is extremely simple: opening the gates would have breached the defenses of the city. This is all the more true if there had been reasonable cause to believe that the “refugees” were, in whole or in part, enemy soldiers, as there certainly is reason to believe now.
The assumption that opening the gates is always right, that taking your life into your hands is always correct — even when there are others in your care at stake — and that Jesus always required these things, is plainly false.
Indeed, the “moral imperative” suggested, that we have an absolute obligation to as many who come without regard for our own safety, resources or interests of any sort, would obligate all of us personally to take in as many refugees — in our own personal homes — as we possibly can house, possibly even to take personal funds and build additional housing for them, and to keep our doors unlocked at all times for any stranger who happens by, regardless of their intent and regardless of whether they are capable of providing for themselves.
Oh, and one other thing, the big question no one seems to be asking: regardless of whether there might be a better, less intrusive option. Such as safe zones inside Syria, funded and defended by our very capable armed forces. Or an immigration process designed to properly screen out those who pose a threat to those whom we’re sworn to protect.
If God requires that we pour out our wives and children as drink offerings to these Molechs, then we should absolutely do so. But if He doesn’t, it seems odd that so many who normally call for expository preaching have suddenly become so sloppy; and that so many others who normally speak of the need to keep religious thought out of public policy suddenly wish to use such pious sounding yet ill-defined “imperatives” to get their way.
Using Scripture, sincerely or otherwise, is not the same as taking the full counsel; nor is asking questions reprobation. We do have obligations, we do have issues of stewardship, we are required to love our neighbor. But we are not God, and we are frequently unable to do all we might like to do. An emotional rush to “do something” rarely produces a result that makes sense later, even if the emotional response turns out to be the right answer.
So given these things, this might be a good time to remember that other oft-forgotten passage: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” Of all the Bible’s teachings, in practice, this one may be the most glossed over and loathed.
This article was originally published as part of my “Beyond the Church Door” series in the Florida Baptist Witness.