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Loving Our Neighbor

When Life and Faith Collide: 3 Practical Thoughts on the Refugee Crisis

The current national and global conversation is full of debate, anger, prayer, hope, fear, and disappointment – all at the same time. While the newly signed Executive Order has garnered the most recent attention, ultimately the real issue is this: How do we honor two clear calls from God on our lives – to love our neighbor and to protect our country. I’d like to add my thoughts and perspective to the conversation.

I first had the privilege of connecting with refugees both locally and overseas in 2001 and have served in these communities for the past 16 years. About two weeks ago, my kids and I were blessed to sit down over coffee in the home of a Syrian refugee here in Charlotte. Just one week ago, I was on the border of Uganda, honored to serve some of the 200,000 Sudanese refugees in a refugee camp of over 20,000 people. I share this to give context to my perspective: the past 16 years of my life and work have involved the refugee community both in the United States and internationally. As a follower of Christ, a husband, a father, and a missionary to refugees, I hope to offer insight into the current national and global conversation regarding refugees.

I cannot remember a time in my life when the conversation around refugees has been more discussed, debated, or so centrally focused in the public eye. In the past 18 months, opinions have gone from overwhelming compassion in 2015 when the Syrian refugee crisis erupted; then fear over the November 2015 Paris attacks; and finally anger with the current U.S. Administration’s newly signed Executive Order. I do not envy the position of any President or the vast weight of decisions shouldered by such an office. Regardless of the political party in office, the responsibilities of the President are more than most of us would ever desire. As such, this is not intended as political commentary; rather, I want to offer Biblical commentary on how we may both love our neighbor and protect our country.

God’s Call to All Christians

First, anyone who is a Christian has a clear call to love the Lord our God, and love our neighbor as ourselves in Luke 10:27. There is no debate: the Bible calls us to this; but there are questions about what it looks like day to day. We are also called to love the foreigner and refugee (Deut 10:18-19). We are called to offer love and to care for those not from our country (and those who are now in our country and in need). When we think about these two Biblical calls, the instructions are clear: love those around us, including foreigners, with the same kind of love we would desire someone show us.

Second, the Bible calls family leaders to protect and provide for their families and home, and a government to protect and provide for its country. In 1 Timothy 5:8 we read, “Anyone who does not provide for their own family, especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than the unbeliever.” God takes very seriously the call to protect and provide for our families and our homes. Additionally, Romans 13:1-4 shares that governments are established by God, and their primary purpose is to protect those under their rule.

A Complicated Matter

If the instructions are so clear, how does this become so complicated? How can loving our neighbors and protecting our homes create such tension and debate?

By its nature, love is a risky endeavor; protection, by nature, avoids risk. To love someone means to open yourself to hurt and disappointment; protection means to shield someone from being hurt. Love calls us to be vulnerable and caring; protection involves reducing vulnerable areas. Herein lies the tension.

Loving your neighbor looks different based on who you are and how you believe love is best expressed. We can take countless paths, both as a family and a government, to protect our homes. But, what if loving my neighbor puts my family at risk? How much risk is acceptable or required while being faithful to the call to protect my family? What if my love for one neighbor seems to jeopardize my love for another neighbor? Which neighbor is more important? Ultimately, can we love all our neighbors equally well… in such a way they all feel equally loved… and does not subject our family to unnecessary risk?

It’s in these real questions we begin to see the call to protect our home and the call to love our neighbors and foreigners, while clear at first, can actually get very messy and complicated.

What Should We Do?

1. Pray.

Pray for wisdom to practically live out these Biblical callings in our communities.

Pray for our leaders. Romans 13 tells us all authority is established by God, and we should pray their hearts and decisions will reflect God’s heart. Pray they would carry well the burden of leadership regarding such complex issues, protecting and providing for the country.

Pray for displaced families. The journey of the refugee is a broken one full of unthinkable tragedy. Pray for their safety. Pray for their faith. Pray they will remember God loves them, knows their plight, and has not forgotten them. Pray for their path of restoration, an extremely difficult one, but one that God can restore. Pastor Richard, a South Sudanese refugee in the Pagirinya refugee camp, shared with us in Africa last week, “I know God has put us in this camp and situation for a purpose, and we are wanting to see God’s kingdom reign here in this camp.” Ask God to give the refugee community around the world vision to see He can and will use their situation.

Also, pray for us. As citizens of the United States, we need to pray for each other. Pray we will have God’s heart for our country, our leadership, and our neighbors. Pray we will live that out well in our country.

2. Seek truth beyond social media.

Wise living comes by understanding the truth. Take time to understand God’s truth around these issues. Take time to understand the facts in the refugee crisis and the new Executive Order. Be careful to not let social media shape your public and personal opinion.

Having already established the Biblical foundation of my perspective, here are some additional facts to consider regarding the refugee crisis, the United States’ role in it, and the recently signed Executive Order. No commentary implied; just the facts:

There were 65.3 million displaced people in the world in 2016, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
1 in every 113 people in the world are displaced.
1.9 million refugees have been resettled in the U.S. since 1980.
The U.S. took in 80,000 refugees in 2016; 46% are Muslim and 44% are Christian.

To give some historical context, let’s look at the past 15 years of refugees resettled in the U.S. according to the U.S. State Department (source):

Year        Total      Syrian refugees admitted (Syrian war began in 2011)
2002 — 27,131        –
2003 — 28,403      –
2004 — 52,873      –
2005 — 53,181       –
2006 — 41,223      –
2007 — 48,282     –
2008 — 60,191      –
2009 — 74,645      –
2010 — 73,311       –
2011 — 56,424      29
2012 — 58,238     31
2013 — 69,926     36
2014 — 69,987     105
2015 — 69,933     1,682
2016 — 80,000    13,210
2017 — TBD, current administration is discussing 50,000 refugees

The new Executive Order does not impact or limit refugees leaving their country and finding refuge and safety in refugee camps around the world. There are no refugee camps in the United States. The new Executive Order places a freeze on the U.S. accepting any Syrian resettlement applicants and a 90-day freeze on resettlement applicants from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan. The new Executive Order states the freeze is for national security purposes, allowing the NSA to evaluate and revise the vetting process for refugees coming to the U.S.

The Executive Order states these six countries have been identified by the State Department as the top threats to our national security who also currently have displaced people seeking asylum and refugee status in foreign countries.

The Executive Order gives the State Department the right to give special consideration for acceptance into the U.S., on a case by case basis, to anyone from those six countries as they deem necessary (i.e. people who have aided the U.S. military in those countries and are seeking asylum because of their service with the U.S.). (source)

3. Do something: help those already here.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, get involved with the nearly 2 million refugees who are already here. Rather than debating who should and should not receive refuge in our country, take a step of faith to love the refugees who are already here. If everyone voicing their passionate opinion on social media took that time and passion to love the refugees already in their city, we would see millions of families experience the love God has called us to show our neighbors. So, get involved. If you’re not sure how, search for refugee agencies in your city and ask how you can help.

The tension is real but has opened a conversation through which I pray we can all grow — and out of which, by God’s grace, the refugee community will receive love. There is no clear-cut answer on how or where to draw the line between loving our neighbor and protecting our home. I pray each of us will seek His truth to find ways to fulfill both callings in our lives and our world.