On Sojourners, Walls, and Illegal Aliens, Part 9 (Where the Rubber Hits the Road)

[This is too long for a single post, but I couldn’t find a good way to split it and spread it over two or three days.]


The Pottery Barn rule

The civil law question of who should get into the country and on what terms is a very different question governed by  considerations that don’t apply to the church as the church.

There is no biblical command to the USA as a nation-state to be hospitable, although the moral argument is very powerful — just as was true of Sodom and Gomorrah. After all, we’re the ones who helped make such a colossal mess of the Middle East. It was Thomas Friedman who applied the Pottery Barn rule to foreign policy: You break it; you own it.

This is why so much of the world is outraged at the American refusal to allow immigrants from Syria. We helped break it. We should help fix it. And maybe immigration isn’t the best solution. But that’s a political question having to do with nation building, the use of the military, relationships with the Russians, and lots of other things that the Bible wasn’t written to address. The Bible can inform our foreign policy, but it’s not really a manual on how to do good government.

I’m not saying that the scriptures are irrelevant to government; just that we really need to stop assuming that the US is theocracy subject to the biblical commands given to Christians. It’s a form of avoidance; we talk about the government’s responsibility under Torah when we ought to be talking about our responsibility to sojourners. In fact, if the church would honor its obligations to sojourners, the politics would change for the better because the politicians would, for purely self-interested, political reasons, follow the example of the churches.

The hard question

So I think we’re finally ready to tackle this question:

If as a Christian I believe I’m bound to show hospitality to immigrants, even at some risk of my life and my family’s lives, is it sufficient to accept that risk only if the President happens to ask me to take in an immigrant family? Or am I obligated to pro-actively seek out one or more immigrant families to provide hospitality to, knowing that many families and many communities will shun the immigrants? Do we, like Lot in Sodom, offer hospitality to strangers when all others refuse?

There is no church program for the poor or oppressed that is without risk. Anytime you deal with strangers, you take a risk. The human mind is hardwired to perceive the unknown as dangerous. For example, if you work in a jail ministry, you subject yourself to the risk of physical harm by an inmate, but the degree of risk is actually quite small — at a level most of us would consider acceptable. No one promised us a risk-free evangelistic environment — just an eternity in bliss.

Just so, if a refugee family moves into your neighborhood or attends your church, the risk of terrorism or criminality will never be zero. But it can be acceptable. And while there have been some crimes and terrorist acts committed by vetted immigrants, the vast majority of vetted immigrants — immigrants that the US government has approved following an investigation into their background — are not dangerous.

Where the rubber hits the road

Face facts. It’s easy to talk theology as theory. But the rubber hits the road when an actual Christian hosts an actual non-Christian immigrant family in their home or neighborhood. I mean, I can self-righteously post on Facebook about how generous and kind my nation ought to be or sign a petition telling the government how to act — when the odds that I’ll be personally affected by my theology are nearly zero. Even 100,000 immigrant refugees spread across a nation as large as ours would make it highly unlikely that I’d suffer any consequences even if every one of the immigrants proves to be a terrorist. The numbers make it all so … abstract and theoretical. And Christianity isn’t supposed to be that kind of thing.

But if my church were to write the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or Welcoming Refugees or World Relief to offer to host a family, well, that would shift the odds of being personally committed quite a lot and show Christian hospitality in fact, not just in theory. And there are churches that do exactly this. There are.

World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), took on about 11,000 cases last year—a record high since 1999—and had almost 1,200 churches volunteer to help.

The United States had been on track to meet the Obama administration’s goal of resettling 110,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017—the highest goal since 1995, the Pew Research Center reported.

Evangelical Experts Oppose Trump Refugee Ban,” Christianity Today (Jan. 25, 2017) (emphasis mine).

Thanks to XKCD.com.

But for most of us, we just like winning arguments. Well, we mainly just like arguing, because we never persuade anyone. I mean, has anyone on Facebook ever persuaded anyone of anything?

So it seems to me that if I were convinced that we should show hospitality to refugees (which has nothing to do with illegal immigration, just legal immigration), the best response of the church to the refugee crisis and Trump’s executive order would not be a Facebook post or a petition or a rally. Rarely is a political act the highest Christian response. It’d be a letter to a resettlement organization offering to host a refugee family to help them resettle.

Imagine the government receiving 50,000 such letters from 50,000 churches. Wouldn’t that change Trump’s political calculus? Wouldn’t it moot much of the concern? And wouldn’t it be an extraordinary means of lifting Jesus up as a beacon of light in a deadly dark world?

Now, your church should not write such a letter without talking with the members and getting their input. Obviously. And this would require educating the members about the risks and the history of the refugee program. And we could all use the instruction and dialog. I mean, dialog and personal interaction with refugees would change a lot of hearts. It’d build a bridge across party lines. And it would force those who want to preach about sojourners — left and right — to answer the hard questions. I mean, the right wingers would have to explain how they avoid the biblical mandates. The left wingers would have to explain how the risk of terrorism or criminality or unacceptable cultural practices, such as honor killings, are to be handled. We can’t play Pollyanna with the lives of our neighbors.

Among those hard questions would also be how to bring a refugee family into your town and not scare the neighbors — hardly a loving thing to do. How would you handle the public perception of what you’re offering to do? How would you alleviate fears of terrorism? Well, I imagine you’d need to hold some meetings where these things are openly discussed within the entire community. And the tone of the meeting would need to be that we’re meeting to hear from our friends and neighbors about whether to do this — not “We’re doing this and you have to deal with it.”

Again, a church that loves its neighbors would not want to leave their neighbors in fear, no matter how unfounded the fears may seem to you. Meet. Talk. Discuss. Listen. Build bridges. It would be a great thing for your church as well as your community. (Even better would be for all the churches in town — regardless of denomination — to do this in concert for several families. After all, this issue is bigger than one congregation or one denomination.)

A couple in my church adopted an infant who was born HIV-positive. And many in my church were terrified that their children might catch AIDS. But we held meetings with medical professionals and considered the real risks, and the members decided to accept the child and allow their children to play with the newly adopted baby — but only because it was discussed, questions were answered, and actual experts explained how little risk there is. The risk is not zero, but it’s pretty low. And the result was radical hospitality done in love not only for the child but for the other members. (And we do tend to forget that our actual neighbors are among our biblical neighbors.)

Just so, if you were to invite a particular family from the Middle East to live in your community and offer to help them settle in, you would no longer be talking politics and law. You’d be talking about flesh and blood. And while an abstract group of refugees may be unwelcome as potential criminals or abusers of women or terrorists, if we were to shift the question to this particular family and the risks they bring with them, well, that’d be an entirely different conversation.


So my thought is that we need to get away from abstractions and policy and, as the church, deal with people — neighbors — as people who are neighbors, and learn about this particular family and assess whether this particular family would be appropriately extended Christian hospitality. I mean, we really shouldn’t be hospitable to criminals and terrorists, but neither should our fear of criminals and terrorists cause us to disobey the command to welcome strangers who are here legally and pose little threat to our safety. (And I’m not arguing for or against sheltering illegals; there’s much more to consider on that question.)

Am I saying that you must offer to host an immigrant family to be a good Christian? No. There are plenty of other ways to honor the command to be hospitable. But I wouldn’t consider signing a petition asking the President to bring in immigrants unless I also offered to host an immigrant. I mean, it’s just too cheap and easy to make demands on others. To ask others to take risks and carry burdens. I don’t think there’s anything remotely Christian about telling the world how to live. As I understand our shared faith, it’s really about how we live. (Obviously, we are to evangelize the lost, which will affect how our converts live, but then they’ll be part of us.) So let’s get our heads out of the political clouds and follow the example of the early church by being hospitable — rather than lobbying for laws that force others to be hospitable.

On being faithful

We Christians are expected to live lives that are outside society’s cultural norms. We are to be faithful even when faithfulness seems a little crazy.

So I’m not much worried about what Trump, Congress, and the courts will do. I have no control over that. My opinion has not been requested. I’m worried about how to live as an alien in a strange land, as a colonist for Christ in a world that has little regard for Christians. How to show that the Kingdom is not like the world but better. How to lift up Jesus as a beacon of light in a world filled with darkness. And bickering on Facebook over immigration policy and signing petitions when I’m not willing to lift a  finger to help an actual immigrant isn’t on my to do list.

Rather, my friends and clients who are Muslims are looking at the church and wondering what kind of people we Christians really are. And so, like it or not, we have the opportunity to answer that question. In fact, what we do or don’t do will answer that question no matter how much we might prefer to avoid it. There is no avoiding it. We will show who we are by how we act.

And then I notice that 1.200 churches have told INS that they’ll host an immigrant family. There are 350,000 churches in the US. There are probably 400 churches right here in Tuscaloosa County. 1,200 churches is less than 0.4% of all US churches. So if I’m a rational Muslim comparing Christianity to its claims, what should I conclude? After all, hospitality is among the highest obligations in that part of the world, even among non-Christians. See here and here.

And all that’s just the beginning of the argument for hosting a refugee family. I mean, in a denomination that’s declining in numbers, why would we pass up such a great evangelistic opportunity? As a denomination that strongly believes in foreign missions, why would we burden our missionaries with having to defend our refusal to help resettle refugees. You see, we see this as a political question. It’s really a spiritual question and so has to be thought through in spiritual terms.

And I know it will be difficult for church leaders to persuade their members to give up their allegiances to their political parties and candidates and to instead think through this purely on spiritual terms. But that’s a conversation our congregations badly need.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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16 Responses to On Sojourners, Walls, and Illegal Aliens, Part 9 (Where the Rubber Hits the Road)

  1. JohnF says:

    “I mean, it’s just too cheap and easy to make demands on others. To ask others to take risks and carry burdens.” Politically, have we seen ANY members of congress asking immigrants to live next door to them? Perhaps, be we do not hear of it, do we?

    I am part of a congregation actively reaching out to immigrants, and have directly supported that mission. But ask me if am comfortable in accepting “all comers,” unvetted, and I must honestly answer, “Yes, I am uncomfortable.”

  2. Bob Davis says:

    John, you reflect a caring heart, but it’s evident you haven’t read the Qu’ran. Having dealt with Islam in prisons since 1996 I have learned to feel pity for their being so mislead. If you like I will send you the Qu’ran verses that teach the earth is flat like a carpet, Muslims are not to be even friends of Christians or Jews, Muslim husbands are COMMANDED to beat their wife is she refuses to obey, unbelievers are to have terror struck into their hearts and heads cut off.
    Also, I think you know due to the bible definition that a Muslim is an antichrist. Most Muslims not knowing much about the Qu’ran are not the world’s problem. It’s the 22 to 25% that are committed to it’s teachings that are. These are not “extreme” or “radicalized”, simply committed to Qu’ran’s complete teachings. Islam is a religion of peace, but ONLY for Muslims. Sunni and Sheite Muslims are killing each other so where is their respect for infidels? Did you know that a Muslim never has to tell an infidel the truth? An ex-Muslim explained to me why this is so. Those that are trying with sincere love are not finding it all that difficult to bring Muslims to Jesus, right here in America.

  3. Bob Davis says:

    Just curious, where do these cartoon faces by comments come from? Anybody know?

  4. Dwight says:

    The old saying, “there is strength in numbers” is accurate. The more you get of one thing, the more of one thing it is. This is true of culture or religion and especially true when you have both culture and religion tied together.
    Ironically while there may be conversion from Islam to Christian here, there are probably more conversions happening in the Middle East. The reason is that the Muslims are isolating their own people and straining what is acceptable in the religion of Islam. They are seeing the dark side that was always there between themselves, that used to be reserved for those not Muslim.
    But those that come to America are relieved from the hypocritical nature of their religion, because they are not orthodox Muslim. And yet if it came down to it, they support the orthodox Muslim, because it is still Muslim. This is why Sharia law can be accepted even though many don’t agree with it…it is Muslim law and thus right.
    In the eyes of the orthodox Muslim anything is acceptable if it furthers the cause of Islam. Thus lying is not lying if done for the right reasons of expanding Islam. Lying to an infidel is not lying, because the infidel doesn’t deserve the truth.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Bob Davis,

    The cartoon faces are Wavatars, computer generated at random, to help readers identify when comments are from the same person. Esp. helpful when two or more commenters have similar names or the same commenter enters his name differently. And it’s kinda fun.

    You can set up a service that gives your actual photo or art, as some commenters have done. Go to http://en.gravatar.com/. Also of interest: https://blog.gravatar.com/2008/04/22/identicons-monsterids-and-wavatars-oh-my/

  6. Monty says:

    There are just so many good causes in the world that believers can help out with. On any given night there are 500,000 homeless people in the US alone. Around 50,000 of these are Veterans who served our country. Over 300,000 are under 18 years old. There are over 200,000 that fall under “familys”-more than 1 person. There are the hungry US citizens. Some 17 million kids have what’s called Food Insecurity, everyday! 1.65 million US households live off of less than $2.00 a day. There’s Wounded Warriors, St. Jude’s, Shriners Hospitals for kids, and the list goes on. Then there are the truly oppressed Christians of the world. Somewhere down the list of people who need my help are Muslims who worship a God and a book that makes it OK to kill there on people (Sunni-Shia)and to commit atrocities against the “infidels”. A large percentage of the refugees have no intention of becoming plugged into our system and way of life. As Bob Davis said, the ones who take the Koran seriously(20-25%) are enough to cause problems much less those who are radical jihadist. If I come in personal contact with a Muslim who needs my help I will help them as I would anyone else. I would not leave them in the ditch and walk on by. I would bind up their wounds and do what I could. There are many other causes that rank higher on my time and disposable income right now though. As far as the nation goes, I don’t think we have to take the blame for a religious power struggle between Muslim sects that have been warring for hundreds of years and especially not for radical jihadist. I’m not for allowing mass amounts of Muslims into the US. To my knowledge there hasn’t been any nation where allowing large amounts of Muslims in has worked out well for the betterment of that country. Usually just causes divide.

  7. Dwight says:

    I’m not sure the “you break it, you own it” concept applies to the Middle East as it was never in the best shape to begin with. True, we did in our involvement help stir up a hornets nest, but the hornets were there and waiting. Germany blamed the Jews for their problems and thus found a way to unite and the Muslims blame the Western world, but then again they always have, and thus helped unite many Muslims who were on the religious zealots into action against a common enemy. This despite the fact that the US also and has routinely helped those in the Middle East in aid for many, many years. They also hate the Jews and the Jewish notion that is ruining their caliphate dreams.

  8. Eric Thomas says:

    Coming from a place where I’ve lead in business and in ministry I’ve noticed that the people who complain the most and have most of the opinions are also the ones least willing to lead or be part of the fix. So I try to live by the rule of “don’t complain about someone in leaderships decisions unless your willing to be apart of the fix or lead it myself”. I’ve avoided meeting with elders when asked to by others because I know they are doing the best they can. If they ask my opinion on something I’ll give it. Leading is tough and messy and the one leading is in a place where they have to make the decisions. So I love this post. It really hits on action before words. See a problem fix it. Being in a management while being part of the labor l love it when someone fixes a problem before I know their is one.

  9. Dustin says:

    @Bob Davis I have to say that is a terrible oversimplification of the Qu’ran. It is very easy to cherry pick verses from the Qur’an and the Bible for purposes of attack by both sides. A more nuanced argument is necessary to be helpful to the conversation.

  10. JohnF says:

    Sometimes we might just have to say, ” I like the way we ARE doing something better than the way you ARE NOT doing anything.” I have spoken at congregations that are so AFRAID of doing something WRONG that they are doing NOTHING! That is truly sad. Only by doing SOMETHING, and learning what does and does not work, will anything useful be accomplished.

  11. Dwight says:

    John, very true. We fence ourselves in by laws, when the law of Christ was supposed to induce liberty. It is funny how we read when Paul says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.”
    He said it twice to make it understood that he wasn’t bound by law, but was bound by edification and giving, but we have turned it around and made things that don’t edify and help into law, which wasn’t his point.
    Or we bind ourselves with traditions and then throw away the key.

  12. Gary says:

    There is an excellent article today (February 21, 2017) in the New York Times by Jesse McKinley entitled “A Surprising Salve for New York’s Beleaguered Cities: Refugees.” McKinley gives an in depth look at how immigrants and refugees are helping to revitalize Buffalo, a rust belt city that has been experiencing decline for decades. About 10,000 refugees have been resettled in Buffalo over the last decade. They are rehabbing cheap vacant properties and putting them back on the tax rolls.They are increasing enrollments at colleges and universities. They are opening new businesses.

    McKinley also addresses the common complaint about immigrants being a burden on taxpayers by using food stamps and other government aid programs. He makes a strong case that these are “upfront costs” that will pay dividends for Buffalo for decades to come.

    Each census about half of American counties experience population decline. In some states most of the counties are steadily experiencing an ageing and declining population. They’re not going to grow again from the White population. American Whites aren’t having enough children to replace themselves. The children they do have are typically moving as young adults to growing metropolitan and urban areas. Their only hope to reverse their decline is to actively welcome immigrants and refugees. Refugees especially tend to have higher educational levels and technical and professional skills than immigrants in general.

    It is ironic in the extreme for so many White or White and Black counties and cities to embrace nativism and shun immigrants and refugees. In so doing they are basically signing their own death warrants. The Eisenhower 1950’s and the Reagan 1980’s are never coming back. The American future belongs to those who embrace immigrants and refugees. Those who shun them will fade into irrelevance.

  13. Dwight says:

    Gary, the problem isn’t so much that we aren’t willing to embrace them, but they are unwilling to embrace American culture and even Christ and Christian values. I guarantee that as these cities are repopulated with Muslims that they will have Sharia law as a sub-law to the American law. The question is how are they able to revitalize these areas if they have no money, well they are given funding from somewhere and someone. Schools will only let people in who have the money to be enrolled, except public schools who must take them at the expense of the county. Buffalo will become a little Iraq given enough time.
    This statement makes no sense “Their only hope to reverse their decline is to actively welcome immigrants and refugees. Refugees especially tend to have higher educational levels and technical and professional skills than immigrants in general.”
    Many towns have remade themselves by cleaning themselves up and then people move back. People generally move from slum conditions and gang run territories.
    Refugees are more educated than immigrants? How do you gather? Is there a wide difference? Are they not taking welfare then?
    “Those who shun them will fade into irrelevance.”
    Tell this to those European countries that are accepting the Muslims in and look at how their native cultures are fading into obscurity replaced by the Muslim culture. Let’s see it isn’t the Swedes who are setting their cars on fire and raping their own women. These things are being done by people who detest Western values and Christians and Jews, but wish to accept the help from those groups.

  14. Gary says:

    Dwight, we have a much higher crime rate from our own homegrown criminals than any European country has from refugees. It is a falsehood to claim that immigrants and refugees have a greater likelihood of committing crimes than do native born Americans. Studies have consistently shown that immigrants in the US have a crime rate that is only 20-50% as high as native born Americans. Of course those who live in the Fox-Limbaugh,et al bubble would never know that.

    It is well known that immigrants and refugees, especially those from Asia and the Middle East, are disproportionately represented in the US in the medical, computing, scientific and engineering fields. Not nearly enough native born Americans are entering these fields. Refugees who manage to finally get to the US are often the cream of the crop of their home countries. After all they’re smart enough to be able to navigate years of bureaucracy to finally get to the US. They make an important contribution to our society. We would all suffer the consequences of great damage to our economy without them.

    Radical Muslims are no more representative of Islam than radical Christians are of Christianity. We’ve had our own “Christian” terrorists through history. The Ku Klux Klan thought they were serving the interests of white Protestantism by persecuting and even at times killing Blacks, Jews and Catholics.

    Regardless of your opinion of Islam Muslims are here to stay. There’s no going back to the America that was all Black and White, Christian and Jew. The US is now and will increasingly be even more multi-religious, multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. No amount of ethno-nationalist conservatism can now turn the clock back- no matter who is in the White House. America will only become more diverse. How much better it would be to embrace our future instead of trying to take our country back in time.

  15. Dwight says:

    Gary, the problem is that Radical Muslim is a misnomer as they are actually Fundamental Muslims, those who stick to the book of the Koran tightly. “So Radical Muslims are no more representative of Islam than radical Christians are of Christianity.” is not true. Fundamental Christians are those who are representatives of Christ.
    Radical today means to stray far from the center so at to not be a representative of, while it’s true meaning means ” from the root”, which is where we get radius or radial or measured from center (root) outward.

    We’ve had our own “Christian” terrorists through history. The Ku Klux Klan thought they were serving the interests of white Protestantism by persecuting and even at times killing Blacks, Jews and Catholics.
    Gary, they as you note were not “Christian”, but these Muslims are fundamentally Islam.
    Go back to Jesus and His message and spreading and then compare Mohamed’s message and spread.
    Total opposites.
    One spread by willing conversions, while the other spread by conversion by the sword.
    They are not comparable at their base, nor in their fundamental teachings.

    It is now coming out that the crime rate in the European countries with has been grossly deflated since large camps have been set up and the dynamics of the countries are changing to suit the visitor as the visitors aren’t changing to suit the country. The refugee camps are basically slums and the Muslims look down on the natives as they aren’t Muslim.

    While it is true that some refugees/immigrants do well, depending upon which country they come from, but it is hardly true that “Refugees who manage to finally get to the US are often the cream of the crop of their home countries.”
    This has not been true of those coming from Mexico and South America. And while those from Asia and Africa do well, others not so much.
    But the problem again is while it is a nice idea to house Muslims in America, we must realize that Islam is fundamentally at odds with Christianity and are prone to persecuting Christians and setting up Sharia Law and yet we are inviting this.
    And while Muslims are coming over here, Christians are being slaughtered over there. Yes it is true that many divided Muslims are killing each other, but as a whole Muslims in the Middle East wish the Jews and Christians to be destroyed.
    Not good.

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