Refugees part 3: 4 ways a Christian can miss the point on immigration

The news media is a problem for western Christians; not because of its bias against godly ethics but because of Christians wholesale ingestion of news commentary. I know, that was a broad statement and not true of every Christian. However, would you give it some thought? How many voices do Christians listen to (or read) in a given day? And what are the sources of these voices — dead men or the living God? I would suggest that many Christians have a problem parroting more of what they’ve heard on the news media than what they’ve heard through God’s Word. This problem is most evident when it comes to hot-button “social” issues such as immigration.

Now, the call to the Christian is to guard our hearts for what is coming in and out, and to let our speech be seasoned with grace (others can “taste” the grace in the words we use). We should be speaking as “other-worldly” people. Yet, so oftenScreen Shot 2018-08-17 at 1.43.48 PM when a difficult issue arises, opinion trumps grace. So, here are 4 signs which can test and reveal if we are dead-men’s parrots or life-giving prophets:

  1. The use of dehumanizing language: I’m probably going to explore this one with another post altogether. This sign is so subtle because it stays in the realm of “solving a problem.” You see, the immigrant people are more a problem to be resolved than a people to be restored. Look at how you talk about refugees or immigrants. What words are you using? Do you ever call them people, humans, human beings, image-bearers of God, or friends? Or, do you stay neatly in the realm of calling them immigrants, refugees, undocumented, illegals, foreigners, invaders, or threats? One of the tell-tale signs of a language and heart problem is the use of the word “these” —  these people; these immigrants; these foreigners. A worker in one of our camps was shocked when he saw the LifeLab we installed in action with our refugee friends. He exclaimed, “You spent all this money on these people!?” There is something despising in the use of the word these to classify people as lower and more akin to sub-human; something less-than-me.
  2. The defense of political policy first: a little flag goes up in my heart when I read Christians running to defend a civil policy first and foremost with no mention of the Gospel-need anywhere to be found. There’s a Gospel apathy which becomes evident when we label all people “lawbreakers” and we are referring to the State. Again, let me say, I am not advocating for transgressing the law, rather, is the civil law of my resident country the only filter I’m using to describe “these people”? That is not the filter the Father used when he sent us Christ Jesus — and thank Heaven, he did not, or all of us lawbreakers would be without hope. The motive of the Gospel was to love sinners first. The point of confusion often comes when we classify any and all immigrants as illegal lawbreakers. On the other hand, the Gospel tempers this tendency and compels us to seek out their humanity and to meet the needs of the stranger. Our natural disposition, however, makes it so hard for us to approach and understand those who are different than we are.
  3. The Lord’s church doesn’t factor as a solution: Following on from the last point, one of the things I have noticed in comments on Christian forums is the tendency not to see the local church as God’s welcoming and sheltering family, but rather, the church is more of a complication (a nuisance in the argument even) or maybe even a contributor to the social problem of immigration. In Italia, we have a dual crisis on-hand. First, we have the humanitarian crisis of the massive wave of immigrant people who are now trying to integrate into European societies. The second crisis, however, is more severe and has to be seen with eyes of faith. We do not have the churches which can serve all of the new people arriving in Italia. Indeed, this is a main reason why we are engaged in church-planting. We believe the Lord’s church is by far the best answer to the humanitarian crisis — simply for the fact that the foundational need of both indigenous people and immigrant people is to know the Lord Jesus. The church does not look at people groups as cattle to be herded or numbers to be pressed through a system. Rather, the church works to get down into each individual life and soul to lift-up Christ as the substance of the image we all bear. Christians and Christian churches miss the point (the Gospel opportunity) when we relegate all the answers and solutions to the State or societal institutions.
  4. The Great Commission isn’t so great: King Jesus ended his ministry with one last charge — Go into all the world and proclaim this Good News of me…!
    In a certain sense, it may be the church is not “going” enough, so the nations are “coming” in a glorious turn-about in modern history. For those intimidated or threatened by others who are not like them, this trend is not a welcome sight. But for those instructed by the King of all, this affords the church a beautiful opportunity.

    In the late 4th century A.D., Augustine wrote a series of works called The City of God where he dealt with the real invasion of the Visigoths of the north and the sack of Rome. Remember, at the time of his writing, the modern world was in a state of shock that the impossible-to-happen, just happened (a surprise theme repeated often in history). In this large work, he has many things to say about the impact of the unseen city of God upon the seen city of man. While Augustine’s main motive was to refute the blame placed upon the Christians for the sack of Rome, he simultaneously challenged Christians to live more for the City of God and to live in the perspective of eternal Heaven than that of what was happening around them.

    In the same way, with such a massive, modern issue (also and often called a “ruinous invasion”), we Christians need to strive to begin with the Great Commission and see to it that the Commission really is Great in our hearts, speech, and decisions. There is enough parroting of the voices of dead-men’s media. Our churches and homes don’t need any more of that. Rather, we need delightful, risk-taking, self-sacrificing, and eye-popping Gospel perspectives which honor our King and his Commission. Please don’t miss that point on immigration no matter where you live in the city of man.

If you would like to read part 2 of this series on refugees, please click here.

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Refugees: Personhood and Politics

Whatever your views on the subject of immigration, do you at least see migrants as human beings? Whenever you hear the word “refugee” what do you think of first? Do you permit the fact that each human being has been formed in the glory of the Imago Dei? Or do you sense judgment like Jonah toward the Ninevites or worse, disgust like Pharaoh toward the Israelites? As I contribute my thoughts and experiences on this vast subject, the undercurrent which daily sweeps over my soul is that the Gospel for the Christ-follower must be the basis, the conditioning “first-thought” which governs all other questions and solutions pertaining to other human beings.

refugee boat

It must be stressed that I am not advocating to throw open borders, ignore national sovereignties, and invite freeloaders and terrorists to enjoy consuming and destroying our cities. I do believe that a Christian’s witness is enhanced or it is hindered by how they treat civil law. On the other hand, I am not advocating that the many foreigners arriving in our land are only a political problem and are not worthy of welcome, care, and the Christian Gospel.

Rather, as I’ve outlined this series of articles, I think the call and the urgency of the Gospel compels believers to go deeper than the news and popular, cultural opinion which tends to rest solely in the political arena. At the outset, what we face is a regular, daily tension of whether we will put our politics aside for their personhood or their personhood aside for our political narratives.

It is much easier to remain in the socio-political arena; there, everyone believes they are entitled to an opinion without many consequences, if any at all. However, we have found when someone begins to work directly with people whose lives have been ravaged and traumatized by war, famine, poverty, slavery, and maltreatment their socio-political opinions are greatly challenged. So, what happens to people between the Facebook wall and the walls of the camps where large groups of human beings are sequestered? My answer is the impact of “personhood” is happening. People are sensing both the dignity of personhood in the Imago Dei and the significance of the pain of human need. It’s the simple practice of personal contact which changes everything.

The Great Samaritan

We can see this plainly applied in the parable of the Good Samaritan. When the Hebrew traveller is mugged and left to die, the two surprising aspects of those who pass by are who they are and the distance they keep. The fellow Jews (who would have had a moral and societal obligation to care) kept their distance and masked both their fears and their disdain for the man-in-need behind their societal robes and roles. In shocking contrast, the Samaritan comes close and personalizes the situation at his own expense. As Jesus recounts the parable, it seems as if proximity to the brokenness caused an immediate melting of any prejudice that the Samaritan could “rightly” claim.

good-samaritan-sculpture

Jesus told this parable to answer the question, “So who really is my neighbor?” At face value, we can discern that our neighbors are human, in need, people along our path, often different than we are, and can also be our socio-political opposites. The question came from an attorney, an interpreter of the law, and it was designed to force Jesus to reduce Heaven’s compassion to man’s comforts. Little did the attorney realize he was trapping himself by putting his politics before personhood — and it takes the invasion of Jesus himself to liberate the lawyer. Indeed, it takes Jesus himself to liberate our sacrifice from our opinions. I cannot overstate how challenging and uncomfortable this practice is for us. Nothing short of the resurrection power of Christ can bring us even close to what Jesus called us to in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

This is a good starting point to advocate for the challenge of our own hearts in how we view humanity — humans who are different than us, messier, and often more broken. It ought to grieve Christians first when another human is in difficulty or suffering before we quickly judge whether they deserve it or not. Ninevites can repent, and God looks forward to their repentance. Did we listen to Prophet Jonah in our Bible classes or did we only color the picture of the fish with a belly full of bitter prophet?  Imagine what the Gospel could do in the hands of energetic, young men who have risked their lives and faced death for much lower causes. Can you visualize how many missionaries and church planters could return to the shores of their homelands from today’s incoming waves? Just imagine how the Gospel could shine and show the upside-down and right-side up story of Jesus Christ among the nations. For this I advocate — the Gospel to humans first and foremost.