Why I Keep Talking About Refugees

refugees

In recent weeks, I’ve spoken, written and posted a good deal about refugees.  Although this is not a new topic for me or Restoration City (we had a senior leader from World Relief speak on a Sunday morning at our church last May), I’ve given it more emphasis in the last two weeks in light of President Trump’s now famous Executive Order.  I know my comments have alternately surprised, angered and thrilled various members of our congregation.  In light of that, I thought it would be helpful for me to share my three goals in raising this issue:

Goal #1: Clarify The Teaching Of Scripture

The primary way I serve our church is by teaching God’s Word.  In my experience, many Christians are not familiar with passages like Matthew 25, Exodus 22 or many others that make it clear that we as the church have an obligation to care for the refugees in our city.  No, those passages say nothing about the government’s role in establishing laws that keep us safe as a country and how we balance compassion with security.  But they make it explicit that when refugees are admitted to our country, we have an obligation to care for them.  Turning our backs on refugees already in our country is quite literally turning our backs on Jesus.  I feel obligated to make this point as clearly as possible.

Goal #2: Challenge Our Thinking

The real conversation over the last two weeks hasn’t been about us caring for refugees when they’re here.  It’s been about whether or not we should suspend (for 120 days or indefinitely) portions of our national refugee resettlement efforts.  I understand that’s a different question than how the church cares for refugees once they’re in our country.  That’s why my goal has been to challenge our thinking, not tell us how to think.

As thoughtful followers of Jesus, we all wrestle with how our biblical and moral convictions shape our approach to public policy and to politics.  That’s the way it should be!  We need to think through how the clear teachings of the Bible influence our participation in the public square on places wherever the Bible is clear – life beginning at conception, marriage being a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman, the moral evil of human trafficking, the need for racial reconciliation and a command to care for the least of these (the poor, the oppressed and the refugee).  To be clear, I don’t think it’s my job as a pastor to connect those dots for you.  But it is my job to raise the question, to suggest that societies flourish most when aligned with God’s design and to argue for a consistent framework as we all wrestle through those questions.  In other words, the way you think about abortion and refugees should both be influenced by the Scriptures and should be influenced consistently.

Goal #3: Build Bridges

I do believe the national conversation about refugees gives us an opportunity to reach out productively to many who are not followers of Jesus.  Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a member of our church who recounted a conversation she had with a friend earlier in the day.  They were talking about refugees and the friend, who is not a Christian, asked with a great deal of challenge in her tone, “So, did your church say anything about this today?”  She was stunned to hear the answer was yes and it made her slightly more open to Jesus.  That’s a win in my book!  All too often, people assume the church and the religious, political right are the same thing.  Not true.  As I’ve said before, if your God fits perfectly into any political party, He’s too small and His name isn’t Jesus.  The broader culture in our city knows theologically conservative churches oppose abortion and defend a biblical view of marriage.  I want to make sure they’re equally clear that we stand with the poor, the vulnerable and the oppressed, including lawfully admitted refugees.

At the end of the day, we aren’t a political advocacy church.  I’m not preaching about the 9th Circuit’s ruling on Sunday.  I’m preaching on Acts 3:1-10 and the foundational rhythms of a life on mission.  We’re about Jesus, Community and Restoration.  But when the culture is talking about something the Bible speaks to, I would rather lean in than pull back.

Refugees Are A Gospel Issue

refugees

One of the convictions that shapes us at Restoration City is the belief that when our city, country or world is talking about something, we should too.  If we don’t, it creates the impression that there’s the real world on one hand and the teachings of Scripture on the other.  Restoration City doesn’t exist to be an escape from the world but rather a place to be strengthened, inspired and equipped to engage the world.  So, I felt it was important to address the current debate about refugees at our gathering this morning.  In doing so, my goal was to make three things clear:

  1.  The church has a tremendous opportunity to serve the national conversation simply by showing that it’s possible to disagree and remain civil.  Our culture is rapidly loosing that ability.  All too often, we vilify people with different views rather than engaging and discussing.  We toss incendiary nonsense around social media because we’ve learned that’s what gets attention.  We’ve replaced careful though with cheap soundbites.  And we’ve divided ourselves into narrowly defined camps that war with other narrowly defined camps.  Restoration City, please don’t give into that kind of lazy thinking or that kind of divisive rhetoric.  It’s not worthy of the sons and daughters of God.  Disagree, debate, engage but do it with respect and gentleness.
  2. Long before refugees ever became a political issue, they were a gospel issue.  The Scripture speaks clearly to our responsibility as Christians to welcome, love and care for refugees.  Often the Bible uses the words alien, stranger or sojourner instead of refugee but they all mean the same thing.  I say refugees are a gospel issue for three reasons:
    1. The central figure of all Scripture was Himself a Middle Eastern political refugee.  When Mary and Joseph took the Lord Jesus to Egypt to escape persecution under Herod, He became a refugee.  There’s simply no other way to describe it.
    2. The Bible speaks to our treatment of refugees in many places.  Consider just a few:
      1. Exodus 23:9 – You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt
      2. Jeremiah 22:3 – Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.
      3. Matthew 25:42-45 – For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
    3. Our treatment of refugees demonstrates our understanding that we are aliens and strangers in this world.  1 Peter 2:11, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”  Our true home is in heaven.  We are sons and daughters of an eternal Kingdom and this world is not our home.  We’re here as aliens and strangers.  The more we understand that, the more we will welcome those who come to our country as aliens and strangers.  The gospel puts each of us right in the middle of Exodus 23:9 – we also should know the heart of a stranger because we are sojourners in America.
  3. We should allow the Bible to shape our prayers.  We should pray for our leaders and for the flourishing of the church in America (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and we should pray for those fleeing their homelands to escape war, persecution and death.

My role as a pastor is not to make political statements.  It’s to teach the whole counsel of God and lead us into conforming our lives to the teachings of Scripture.  That was my goal this morning and it’s my goal in this post.  I’m praying for each of you as you shine the light of Jesus into our world this week.  Be bold.  Be brave.  Be respectful.  Be motivated by the glory of God and the good of humanity.

For Life

life

Today is the annual March for Life here in Washington, DC.  For the 3rd time in a week, massive crowds will fill the National Mall.  I’ll leave it to others with more time on their hands to debate which crowd is largest.  I’m more interested in what these three gatherings say about our world and the role the church must play in it.

Jesus came as Light shining into the darkness of His day (John1:5).  And then He told His followers to do the same (Matthew 5:16).  We can only fulfill the command of Ephesians 5:8, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” by being robustly for life.  But, for me, that’s not a political statement; it’s a gospel statement.  All humans are made in the image of God and given a soul by their Creator.

A gospel shaped for life worldview is desperately needed and astonishingly rare in our culture.  It’s marked by at least three characteristics:

  1.  Not Selective.  Our world desperately needs the church to advocate a for life position that speaks for the unborn, for women, for minorities, for refugees, for the elderly, for the poor, and for the disabled with equal passion and vigor.  Our politics tell us we must pick between women and the unborn.  Jesus shows a radical love and affirmation of both.  All too often, we cherry pick an issue or two that generates political heat or social media sensationalism without seeing that our inconsistency undermines our best intentions.  If you stand for the unborn, you must stand for the refugee.  The gospel reaches across political lines to be a beacon for justice and righteousness in our world.
  2. Motivated By Grace.  Yes, we need to have the moral courage to say abortion is wrong.  But we need to do it in a way that people who have chosen that path still feel welcome in our churches this Sunday.  Jesus didn’t come to shame bad people.  He came to give life to spiritually dead people.  Jesus has as much grace and mercy for those who have chosen abortion as He does for their children.  Don’t ever forget, we represent a God who endured the murder of His Son so He could forgive those who have terminated theirs.  Our message is one of grace, of love, of forgiveness.  It’s a pro life orientation that melts stone hearts and revives crushed spirits.  We aren’t angry.  We’re agents of grace.
  3. Personal Engagement.  I have little patience for people whose social media engagement never translates into anything useful in the real world.  Tweet, post, comment, like and share as much as you want.  But then go do something.  That’s why we partner with the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center and Casa Chirilagua at Restoration City.  We stand where Jesus would be – with the hurting, the marginalized, the afraid, and the broken.  Those are the places where grace does it’s deepest work and those should be the places where it’s most likely to find followers of Jesus.

In writing about Jesus, John says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (Jn. 1:4)  My prayer is that His church would carry that light well.  Our world needs it and it’s what we were made to do.