The Syrian refugee crisis is both a humanitarian disaster and, for thousands of U.S. Christians, a mission opportunity.
These believers, many of them Republican-leaning, are calling for the U.S. to resettle Muslim and Christian refugees fleeing a years-long civil war and foreign airstrikes — and they oppose the governors and lawmakers who want to pause the influx.
And they have dozens of Scripture references to back up their position. Here is their argument.
First, we need to get one thing out of the way: the United States is not God’s chosen people like the Old Testament Israelites were, and Christians in good conscience can — and do in good numbers — oppose the resettlement on national security grounds, or favor tightening the screening process to prioritize marginalized Christians.
But many U.S. Christians, Catholic and evangelical, are applying the principles found in biblical texts to the plight of modern-day migrants.
The God of the Bible clearly cares about the migrant. In the Torah, he commanded the nation of Israel to display his character to the world by not oppressing the sojourner, in part because they were migrants themselves at one time.
“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt,” the LORD commanded Israel in Exodus 22:21-24. “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”
God also established a form of welfare for the marginalized in Israel’s society in Canaan. These migrants were assumed to be people who worshiped pagan gods rather than Israel’s God. The beloved figure Ruth was one of many who benefited from the following command:
“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God,” Leviticus 23:22 reads.
The LORD, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, assumes that individual Israelites would support migrants and foreigners.
“If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you,” he says in Jeremiah 7:5-7.
Indeed, God was so serious about charity to migrants that he repeatedly promised judgment after Israel extorted sojourners, as he did in Ezekiel 22:7.
Chapter 7 of the book of Zechariah records that the Lord Almighty was “very angry” with Israel after it did not pay attention to his command not to oppress the alien or the poor.
Malachi 3:5 is similarly direct.
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts,” it reads.
In Isaiah 58, the prophet asks a series of rhetorical questions to condemn Israel for pretending to worship God by fasting while ignoring the needs of the oppressed.
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
The compassion the Israelites were called to show was meant to be a preview of the compassion of Jesus, who himself became poor to save sinners who are needy in a spiritual sense. And throughout the Gospels, the book of Acts and the epistles of Paul, the writers assume that Christians are characterized by compassion for the marginalized and needy, particularly those who are spiritually needy.
While many Old Testament commands no longer apply to Christians trusting in Jesus, the command to show compassion to the migrant is never annulled in the New Testament.
Modern-day Christians have good reason to see the refugee crisis as an opportunity for the gospel of Christ to spread. Of course, they would support the U.S. government doing everything it can to identify radical Islamists, but for them, closing our doors is not an option.
The United States resettled 69,933 refugees in fiscal year 2015. President Barack Obama is calling for accepting 10,000 refugees from Syria over the next year, refugees the U.S. government can hand-pick and screen. And many Christians would welcome them.
One South Carolina Christian said it well in a recent Facebook post:
“I’m hearing a lot of the illustration (in reference to the Syrian refugees) ‘If you were offered 100,000 apples, but were told a few were poisoned, would you eat one?’ You see, when I think about these refugees, I don’t see bad apples. I see people who need Jesus,” this believer wrote. “I hope they come to America. I hope they live in my town (even my house). And I hope I can share the gospel with them.”