I published a brief article through the Gospel Coalition on our church’s direct experience with the refugee crisis in Italia which was meant to encourage the church at large that there is some good news out there! The surprising thing which took place both here in Italia and the US was how quickly the negative comments began to fill the conversations from “Christians” who were angered by our outreach.
One of the themes which arose was that our church was disrespecting national borders set up by God (so we were disobeying God), that we were illegal for helping “illegals” (so we were disobeying the state), and that the church shouldn’t be involved in politics like this (so we were disobeying political correctness).
In response, I would like to share here that we were not disobeying the first two and really don’t mind breaking the third. Rather, we are seeking in our approach to have Gospel centrality and to be careful how Christ is presented while at the same time not compromising with the feelings del giorno of man before God.
Are national borders important?
I would answer yes to that question as borders define civil law of a national sovereignty, but I don’t sense that is the real issue, at least for the church. We have never preached to throw down national borders and haven’t really heard of that being presented in like-minded churches. If that is an issue for you and your church community, I would be glad to explore it more with you. However, what I do see is the following argument being used somewhat as a straw man fallacy. Any outreach to any newly arrived immigrant or helpful initiative seems to be met with suspicion and then we are categorized as one of “those churches who just want to throw down borders and let everyone in.” Or, another commenter immediately shared how God in his law honors borders — as if we didn’t and don’t love God and his law.
The point is each country has their own immigration and border policies — and as long as they are humane and do not cause immediate risk or damage to human beings, then they should be respected. It is also good, Gospel witness to help others who need to comply with immigration laws if they’re willing to do so. We have encountered some who are unwilling to legalize their status choosing to “hide for a while” until more advantageous times. To those, we patiently offered correction but not membership.
Italia (up to this year) has had a more humane and “compassionate” policy than many countries. For example, one does not need to “touch” the shoreline to seek asylum in Italia; a sea rescue is also sufficient. In recent news, we have seen a more hard-line policy where the sea rescues have taken place but the ports have been closed to entry. Yes, the numbers of refugees entering Italia has dropped dramatically, but the interesting statistic is that the number of deaths at sea has still remained high proportionately. Think of the irony of the situation when the many Mediterranean cruise ships packed with vacationers pass over the spots of hundreds of drowning victims just hours and days before. And to twist the knife into the sadness further, most of the refugees have paid dearly to get on those doomed boats. They’re paying to be drowned, yet the human traffickers are still sending them north.
What happens, then, to those who do reach the ports and shores? That is an important question because Italy places them in a status of semi-sequestration for up to two years until their documents are approved or denied. In our experience, the vast majority do receive their proper papers and enter the society. Some are ready to enter the workforce and many are not.
Please note here: I acknowledge, first, our experience is not a “uniform” experience across all of Italia. We are reporting from the north where hundreds of refugees continue to arrive and other regions may or may not be similar. Second, I am speaking only to their entrance into Italia at this point before they may have broken any laws. I realize that there are riots and attacks by migrants in various cities of Italy for a number of different reasons. The laws are indifferent to race when they are broken, and the judgments or penalties should be applied equally.
Therefore, in a legal sense, the refugees do have a limited permission window to stay, and the large majority being granted longer term permissions to sojourn. This is where we come into direct contact with the refugees. They are already here, and they are provisionally legal. So, if the requirements of the law have been met, there is no “civil” reason why we should withhold the Gospel of life from them. We are neither disobeying the State nor disobeying God’s great commission.
However, if we do ignore them and take up the popular sentiment all around us that they are all illegal (which is untrue), we will definitely disobey the Father. The truth of the situation of popular sentiment is not that they are all illegal, but rather, they are all unwanted.
A better way
For that reason, our Cristocentric approach is to be ambassadors of Heaven; pointing them to a better land where they are invited to enter. They may be unwanted by many around them in this new, European land and that is exactly how Jesus identifies deeply with them. Jesus came to his own people, and they denied his status (John 1:11). The rest of the Gospel of John chronicles how many different ways he was rejected all the way to the final, unjust one in the Cross. This is the message of good news which follows in John 1:12 — to all who will receive him, Jesus gives them the right to be called children of God. This is law and love together.
We want to show them how much they are wanted and how the Savior has already met the law, broken down the dividing wall, and thrown open his city gates — for them! This is news they have never heard before, and after the horrific experiences many of them have endured, it is truly good news.
To read part 1 of this series, please click here.