by Rod D. Martin
November 19, 2015
Yesterday I wrote about several questions regarding the refugees that liberals need to answer. But as we reach the end of a week dominated by the Paris attacks, it may be that some Christians need to answer their own set of questions as well.
It began within hours of Paris. Various Christian leaders and laypeople began scolding the majorities in Europe and America with passages about loving our enemies, welcoming strangers and showing mercy to those in need, all good things aside from the scolding.
Still others retreated into platitudes. Like liberal politicians, they reflexively berated anyone who did not automatically see things their way. Many asked “What Would Jesus Do?” as though Jesus had somewhere expressly commanded “thou shalt not under any circumstances give thought to your neighbor’s physical safety.” One gentleman I spoke with threw out the Good Samaritan, without any further argument, as proof that whatever Barack Obama wants to do is mandated by Christ (his words, not mine).
None of this addressed the questions regarding whether this refugee wave might be different from previous ones (Castro sent us more than a few spies and criminals, but never terrorists), whether police had been able to determine whether a terrorist infiltration of the refugee exodus had played a role in the Paris attacks, whether Obama’s security measures were adequate, or even whether there might be something fishy about 70% of the refugees being unattached military-aged males. Suggestions that many of the refugees actively oppose the very idea of Western civilization and wish to undermine many of our basic liberties were cast aside — without evidence or reason — as mere bigotry.
Well I have spent a lifetime supporting immigration and refugee resettlement, so I’m hardly one to disagree with many of these thoughts. But still, the questions raised are valid, regardless of the answers. And the failure to ask or answer them is anti-intellectual and, honestly, 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 is important. 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 entirely.
And indeed, if we’re going to quote Scripture, a good place to start 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
Clearly not the pure pacifism — or pure turn-the-other-cheek — that is usually 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 it. And this is even 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 some of these folks might interact with this. I Tim. 5:8 is often quoted with regard to income, but “provision” is clearly more than that, both in the Greek and in English. 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.”
Clearly the Word here 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 in a real sense “one’s neighbor.” God’s treasury is big enough to provide for all flesh; the U.S. government thinks it is also, but with only 4% of global population and a penchant for printing money (violating God’s laws concerning honest weights and measures), that belief seems more like pride than truth, at least beyond a certain point. 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 the resources He’s given us permit, much less that we should exhibit super powers.
So there must be some limit, and yet these well intentioned souls continually refuse to offer any standard by which to determine one, or even permit the thought that one could exist. All such discussion is automatically decried as “lacking compassion,” even while the speakers apply poorly reasoned, ill-defined moral obligations upon 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 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 with regard to those exact weaker ones I am obligated to protect.
This is not an argument against accepting refugees. But it does necessitate that questions be asked, and answered with intellectual seriousness and with 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.”
Oh, well that’s obviously a commandment to take in refugees, you might say. But perhaps it’s a command to protect my innocent newborn granddaughter from a pack of military-aged Islamists pretending to be refugees. Which do you think I have the greater obligation to protect? Again, the issue is not my personal safety but rather the safety of those who cannot defend themselves and are at risk.
Or how about this one: 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.
And 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” approach to 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 would have been 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.
So do these passages/questions directly apply to the current situation, and in the way that my citing/asking them suggests?
Not necessarily. But it is by no means obvious that they do not. The assumption that opening the gates is always right, and that taking your life into your hands is always correct — even when there are others at stake — and that Jesus always required these things is plainly false. Indeed, if such simplistic positions were true, we wouldn’t need much of a Bible, and we’d absolutely have to abolish the military and police.
Indeed, the “moral imperative,” the “mandate of Christ” 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 whether there might be a better, less intrusive option.
If God requires that of us, or some subset thereof, we should absolutely do it. But if He doesn’t, it seems odd that so many who normally speak of the need to keep religious thought out of the public discourse suddenly wish to use such extremely ill-defined “imperatives” to get their way — and to silence all debate — right now.
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.