Thursday, November 19, 2015

Religious Refugees and the Mission Field

Introduction

Since the recent attacks by Muslim extremists in Paris, there has been much debate on the internet and in the media about whether or not it is wise for America (or any other western country) to accept refugees from Islamic countries. I've heard the arguments for both sides. One side says we must accept every refugee that seeks asylum because it is our duty to protect their lives, while the other side says that we should not because it is our duty to protect our own lives. The debate in America has even become politically polarized. Liberals tend to be on the side of accepting them, and conservatives are saying to reject them. Liberals are accusing conservatives (mainly conservative Christians) of being hypocritical in refusing to care for the widows and orphans (James 1:27); while conservatives accuse liberals of refusing to protect the people God has placed under their protection. I have seen Christians taking both sides (yes, I'm guilty too). Since this is an issue that I do not see going away as long as evil exists in our world (it is not just an issue that we will deal with today), I do feel the need to address it.

My intention with this post is not to get political, but to help Christians think through the situation given the truth of the Christian worldview. It is important that Christians take a position that is consistent with their worldview; otherwise, they will be accused of hypocrisy, and that will be used by the skeptic as a reason to believe that Christianity is not true. This is not only a practical issue, it is an apologetic issue.



Created in God's Image

The Christian worldview posits that all people are created in the Image of God. This gives each person intrinsic worth and moral responsibility. We are all morally responsible for protecting the lives of God's image-bearers (Genesis 1:27). The life of every refugee (whether Christian or not) is of intrinsic value (Genesis 9:6), and we should consider that when we are deciding whether to protect those who are attempting to escape others with torturous and murderous intentions. Because of this intrinsic value, God has also called Christians to protect the most vulnerable of our members, and in this particular situation, that includes the widows(ers) and orphans. A decision by a Christian regarding how to deal with the refugees cannot exclude this reality, for to do so would be to, at least, be inconsistent in our worldview, and at worst, deny that all humans are created in God's Image and God's commands to the Church (the Great Commission and caring for widows and orphans).

The Concern

The biggest existential concern voiced by conservatives and that I see justified in history is that in the middle of the thousands of refugees that enter a country, several people with evil intentions will be included. We have seen the numbers of murders that can take place at the hands of a relatively few people bent on evil actions. Recent history bares this out: the attacks of April 19th on the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the railroad bombings in London, and the recent attacks in Paris, just to name a few. All of these atrocities and many more were committed by a few people who's ultimate goal was the ending of as many innocent lives as they possibly could.

The reality is that if waves of refugees come to a country, there will be some who join the crowd to enter the country to execute their evil intentions. So, the fact that "only a few evil people will get in" does nothing to alleviate the concerns. If anything, such a platitude, if accepted, gives the citizens of that country a false sense of security and causes them to lower their guard. This is a weakness that is bound to be fully exploited our the countries' enemies.

The Opportunities

Now, while it is important to recognize the existential security concerns, it is also important to recognize the eternal opportunities from such a situation. In the refugee situation that prompted this article, many Muslim refugees are seeking asylum, and President Obama has opened America's doors wide. For Christians this provides an incredible opportunity. Islamic countries have been quite hostile to Christian missionary work within their boarders. In fact, being a native of the country and Christian is dangerous (the recent rape, torture, and beheadings demonstrate this). The fear factor for many Christians in the West has greatly slowed the completion of the Great Commission in this part of the world. The fact that the refugees coming to our doorstep are majority Muslim provides Christians in the West with a unique way to reach that part of the world for Christ without having to cross borders into the dangerous countries.

At the same time, there is also a small minority of Christian refugees from the area that will be accepted with the Muslim refugees. This has two possible opportunities. The first is that with all the Muslims coming, the average American Christian will need to be prepared to present the Gospel to people from a completely different culture. The Christians from the area will be able to work with the Christians here in a concerted effort to present the Gospel in a country where threat of death is not a deterrent to conversion. The second opportunity for Christians from the Middle East is that they, too, may be called to international missions. For them, America is a foreign country where they may be called to reach the lost. Many of them do not have the resources to fulfill that calling on their own. It is very possible, and perhaps even likely, that this is their free ticket to their own international mission field. As Christians in America, we should welcome the Christians from the area (no matter how few) and encourage them and provide as many resources for them so we can to assist them in their calling to international missions. They can minister to us as brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, and we can minister to them as brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, and together we can see more enter into the Kingdom of God.

Responsibilities of Government

Now, in order for this to take place, the government has to be allowed to bring the refugees inside our boarders. But, of course, they cannot do so without the recognition of the concerns that I mentioned at the beginning of the post. The government has a moral responsibility to protect the people God has placed under its jurisdiction. This is grounded in the fact that governments are run by humans who are created in the Image of God and thus have moral responsibility, so are the citizens of their country created in the Image of God and have intrinsic value. When danger is present in a plan to bring people into the country, the government needs to recognize the danger and do everything it can to ensure the safety of its citizens (which may not include a certain level of transparency to prevent alterations by the evil strategists).

I know many people will see that I am implying that we need to trust that the government will catch the evil people within the ranks of the refugees. They will cite the 2009 Ft. Hood shooting as evidence that though the government investigated and passed a man, he still was able to execute his evil intentions. I do not deny this reality in history nor its possibility in the future. Again the government is run by humans, humans who are not perfect, humans who are fallen. Mistakes will be made; information will go undiscovered, and there may even be conspiracies to allow some safe passage to commit their evil. But...

...Did Christ Promise Risk-Free Evangelism?

Will a terrorist make it through? Most likely. Will they execute a plan? Possibly. Is this a risk? Absolutely! But we, in the West, have to remember that Christ not only did not promise that following Him and evangelizing would be risk-free, He promised quite the opposite: "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33). The Apostle Paul, in addressing His sufferings for Christ states, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is going to be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18). At some point, we need to let those who God has called to protect us, do their best or worst. As humans created in the Image of God, they are morally responsible, and they will answer to God for their actions, but so are we morally responsible and so will we answer to God. We need to focus on the opportunities that God has placed in our hands in the context that He has placed them, not the opportunities and contexts God has given to someone else: "Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them...When Peter saw him, he asked 'Lord, what about him?' Jesus answered, 'If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." (John 21:20-22). Despite who the government allows into our boarders and why or how, we have the duty to reach the lost refugees with the Gospel and take care of them.

What Should We Do?

I do not quote Scripture to say that Christians should not be concerned, much less voice those concerns. I quote the passages to remind us that sacrifice may be required for the cause of Christ. We have to remember that when we are weighing the risk versus the reward, the risk is existential, while the reward is eternal. Do we want to minimize the existential risk? Sure. But we cannot allow our fear of risk to prevent us from following Christ's command to "go and make disciples of all nations." (Matthew 28). Let us also not forget what a fear of risk did for the man with one talent (Matthew 25): he was scolded, and what was given to him was taken away. If America is to be used to complete the Great Commission, we cannot lose the opportunities God has given to us due to our fear of risk. If we do, God may take away all opportunities; then what will we do to complete the Great Commission?

Conclusion

For Christians on both sides of the Atlantic, there should be an excitement at the opportunity to expand the Kingdom of God to people on the opposite geographical side. The opportunity does come with risks, which do need to be voiced. But the mitigation of those risks need to be allowed to be done by the ones who God has given that moral responsibility. In doing that, when the refugees do cross our borders, we can be prepared to protect them from the existential threat and oppression of their home country and tell them of the eternal security and freedom that comes with acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. If we are willing to take the risk and boldly proclaim the Gospel, we will hear the words "Well done, good and faithful servant." (Matthew 25).

It is my prayer that Christians will take the content in this post seriously and consider that they may be unwittingly placing a stumbling block between skeptics and Christ by taking one of the extreme political sides of this debate. By presenting a solution that is consistent with all facets of the Christian worldview, we can demonstrate that any accusations, that Christianity (as practiced by its adherents) is an inconsistent worldview that cannot reflect reality, are false. We are not only talking about the eternal salvation of Muslims, but the eternal salvation of any skeptic who knows that a worldview cannot be inconsistent if it is to pass the test against reality. Let us show skeptics that Christianity is a consistent worldview in theory and in practice. Maybe this is even an opportunity for the Church to reach the lost who are already within our boarders, and we just have not recognized it yet.

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