Christians at a Crossroads

by David Watson

Christians in the United States currently stand at a moral crossroads. We face serious decisions regarding refugees from predominantly Muslim countries. The sheer volume of posts on this topic in social media underscores the weightiness of the issues we face. As people of faith, we must decide how we wish to respond to the plight of refugees, an issue that is complicated because of concerns over Islamist extremism.

Over the last week, the situation has become considerably more acute. What exactly has happened? In order to avoid any hint of being labeled reactive, I’m going to base my account on a conservative reading of Trump’s ban from the National Review. I commend the article to you for a fuller account than I will provide here.

  1. President Trump has imposed a 120-day halt on refugee admissions in order to improve the vetting process.
  1. He has capped refugee admissions at 50,000, which is fairly typical of our practices in the United States until recently.
  1. There is a 90-day ban on people entering the U.S. from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. The ban does allow for certain exceptions.
  1. While the status of green-card holders was unclear at one point, it does appear now that they will be allowed to enter the U.S. A more complete description of what is happening can be found here.
  1. There is an indefinite hold on Syrian refugees entering into the United States.
  1. Trump’s directive will prioritize refugees seeking asylum because they are a persecuted religious minority.

How should Christians assess this executive order? Let’s grant that national security is an extremely important priority. Of course a nation should work within reason to maintain the safety and security of its citizens. But for Christians, our support of such measures must be tempered by overriding moral and ethical commitments, commitments we draw in large part from Scripture. That is why we raise concerns about such issues as drone attacks, torture, and immigration policies.

Thus there is a balancing act in which we must take part, as well as an ongoing conversation about what proper balance looks like.

I believe we are now out of balance. In fact, I believed we were out of balance before this recent executive order. I wrote a piece for my blog some time back about the moral obligation of Christians to accept Syrian refugees into the United States. I also wrote another piece on immigration because of my concerns over some of President Trump’s proposed policies. We were listing too far to one side before, and I fear we are about to tip over.

Scripture teaches us again and again that concern for the alien and stranger is an important value of our faith. For example:

Exodus 22:21: “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Leviticus 19:33-34: “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: I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 23:22: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.”

Deuteronomy 10:17-19: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 27:19: “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”

And we should not forget the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, which teaches us that our neighbor is not someone determined by, say, ethnicity or country of origin, but rather by compassion.

Finally, in 1 Peter 2:11, we are reminded that, as followers of Jesus, we ourselves are strangers and aliens in whatever land we happen to inhabit. Our true citizenship is in God’s kingdom, and we must understand all allegiances as secondary in importance.

I’m not suggesting that we apply these passages in the Bible about the resident alien in some flat-footed way to our own context, as if there were no great cultural and historical distance between our world and the biblical world. What I’m saying is that there is a consistent theme within Scripture that points toward compassion to the outsider, and which teaches us that those who have more should share with those who have less. Put differently, what John Wesley would call the general tenor of Scripture teaches us that it is our sacred duty to care for people in need and treat them with respect, whether they are from our nation or some other.

We should keep this Scriptural theme before our eyes, then, as we make use of our own power in the democratic processes of our country to guide our national policies.

We Christians stand at a crossroads. Jeremiah has advice for moments just like this one: “Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (Jer 6:16).” The ancient paths, recorded for us in Scripture, will guide us, and we will find rest. Yet just as importantly, the alien, the exile, and the refugee will find rest as well.

Dr. David Watson, UMR Columnist

Rev. Dr. David Watson is Academic Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs and an Associate Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary. David is an ordained elder in the West Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church. He has worked in the local church and in a United Methodist campus ministry. He currently serves on the Miami Valley District Committee on Ordained Ministry and the West Ohio Inclusive Body of Christ Ministry Team for Persons with Disabilities.

David is a regular contributor to UMR. You can also find more of his writing at : Musings and whatnot…….

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