Yesterday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the temporary suspension of Donald Trump’s refugee ban.
Today, my Facebook feed is predictably filling up with outrage from his supporters, many of which I’m sad to report are self-professed Christians. It’s the same sort of outrage (and often from the same people) I hear whenever a new state legalizes same-sex marriage or whenever a bakery doesn’t want to bake a particular cake or whenever a wedding chapel doesn’t want to perform a certain kind of wedding.
But there is something conspicuously missing in the outrage over the suspension of the refugee ban.
Whenever same-sex marriage is being discussed, folks in the Church are quick and emphatic to point to biblical values to defend their opposition. The Bible says it and that settles it, or at least that’s what we’re told.
Curiously, many of these same folks who oppose same-sex marriage on biblical grounds are also on the attack against refugees fleeing their homeland and immigrants coming across our southern border. Calls are made for walls to be built, alternative facts are thrown out about supposed terrorist threats, and angry rants about safety and security fill the internet, talk radio, and cable news shows.
But unlike the debates over same-sex marriage, there is conspicuously no appeal to biblical values in all of this outrage from folks who are quick to point out there faith in virtually every other political debate.
Which is interesting, because the Bible has far more to say about how we treat foreigners living among us than it does about same-sex marriage. In fact, the Bible is unequivocally clear about how the people of God are to treat our immigrant and refugee neighbors.
In Exodus 23, God says,
You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
And in Leviticus 19, we read,
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
In Deuteronomy 10, we hear this description of God along with a call to go and do likewise,
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
Then once more in Deuteronmy 24, we find these commands,
Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time.Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.
When we get to the New Testament, we find Jesus repeatedly and defiantly fellowshipping with the unwanted foreigners of his day – the Samaritans. As you might recall, he goes so far as to use them in a parable to contrast their goodness with that of the native born children of Israel.
And then he calls his native born listeners to go and likewise. Not likewise like the native born folks. Likewise like the foreigners they despised.
In the pastoral epistles, Paul tells us in Ephesians 2 and Colossians 3 and again in Galatians 3, that in Christ, the borders that divided us are no more. For nationality and immigrant status are irrelevant in the kingdom of God.
What is perhaps most critical for us to catch today in all of this biblical immigration talk is what’s missing from the call to love and serve the aliens among us. Nowhere in the Bible is there is any mention anywhere of legal status or our own personal safety. In other words, there is no exemption in our call to love and serve our immigrant and refugee neighbors just because they couldn’t afford a Green Card or because their religion makes us nervous.
Which is why for the Church, the legal standing of our refugee and immigrant neighbors is irrelevant. If anything, it is those forced into the shadows that need the love of the church the most. Not the abstract emotion that lives only in our minds and certainly not the false love that appears in name only but is incarnated through acts of hate and ostracizing. What our refugee immigrant brothers and sisters need from the church – regardless of how they entered the country and regardless of their faith – is unconditional love embodied in concrete acts of Christlike justice.
While politicians debate in Washington about how best to reform our broken immigration system and vet incoming refugees, our responsibility as the Church isn’t sanctify our fear with political rhetoric. It’s to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, quench the thirst of the parched, care for the sick, and comfort those in prison.
That is only Christian way to treat the refugees and immigrants among us – Muslim, legal, or otherwise.
These are our biblical values.
Which is why I have to imagine that for those outside the Church – whether immigrant, refugee, or native born – our constant appeals to biblical values must look dubious at best and malicious at worst.
Because while we are quick to appeal to biblical values in order to marginalize others, when that same Bible calls us to love those folks we want to marginalize, all of our talk about biblical values suddenly and conspicuously ceases.
And here is where things get even more disheartening: everything you just read was part of a post I wrote nearly two and half years ago about immigration.
The only changes I made were to swap out the anecdote at the beginning (from a story about Obama to one about Trump) and add additional language about refugees.
Yes, there are (thankfully) many Christians on both sides of the side speaking out against the refugee ban because their faith compels them to do so and they’ve made it clear why they have chosen to take the stand they are taking. That is wonderful news.
But the fact remains that this post is every bit as relevant today as it was when I wrote it in 2014 because in far too many corners of the American Church, the gospel has been replaced with conservative American politics that in turn have been baptized in the language of the faith and covered over with a veneer of biblicism.
The problem is not that the gospel has be made political – it’s always been political. Jesus was nailed to a cross underneath a sign that mocked him as the King of the Jews because he was being executed for political insurrection.
The problem is too many of us can’t see where our faith ends and our political ideology begins.
Or worse, we’re so consumed by fear and animosity that we can’t recognize the moment when we stop following Jesus and start following whoever promises to keep us safe, no matter the cost.
Following Christ is never easy, but when we abandon the way of Jesus for the way of Caesar, it doesn’t take a biblical expert to notice our change in allegiance.
In fact, flying a new banner of allegiance doesn’t even require us to say or do anything at all.
All it requires is silence in the face of a clear biblical call.
But when we go further, when the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts are consumed by fear and propaganda that justifies the oppression and marginalization of the least of these, we become something worse than resounding gongs and clanging cymbals.
We become anti-Christ.
Which is why if this post is still as relevant two and a half years from now as it is today and was two and a half years ago, it will be time – past time – for those among us who support the building of walls and the banning of refugees to finally acknowledge who is really Lord of their lives.
Because it’s not Jesus who leads you to support those kinds of things.