One of the stories that has been poking in and out of our collective consciousness – because, apparently, rich white people arguing about which should do what in global power is more important than showing welcome and seeking peace for people we don’t know and share nothing other than being global neighbours – has been that of the Refugee Crisis.
It won’t have escaped most people (With an internet connection – and how often, now, do we think that that is a marker of someone’s worth, engagement, or humanity?) that Donald Trump, a former reality TV star, has some opinions about this. Given his recent surprise (or not, depending on your view of human sinfulness and people’s general ability to sit in biased echo-chambers) election victory, Donald Trump is now turning those opinions into facts and policies, as President of the United States of America. I do hope he reads the books we at SPCK posted him when he won the election.
What will have escaped more people’s notice (indeed, as this example shows, media in the UK at least are fascinated when the Church of England bishops release a statement that isnt a teaching document, but does say something) is the way that many evangelical Christians (Remember us? The ones who apparently voted for Trump, but maybe didn’t as much? Us, yes) are coming out with robust statements of the value of Refugees and the Gospel imperative of welcoming them and inviting them into the Kingdom of God. I’ve seen great pieces from Christianity Today, Pre-Emptive Love, Frontiers and the National Association of Evangelicals.
One that I find particularly heartening, though, is the letter from the National Director of Vineyard USA. His warm, wise words are brilliant – a biblically faithful set of suggestions that flies in the face of received wisdom and runs counter to cultural assumptions and expectations. You can read it here. What Phil Strout writes manages to say a huge amount in a short space:
“We do so in obedience to the command of Scripture as we engage both our empathy and our resources to ease the plight of the marginalized, the dehumanized, and those in need of refuge.
“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and
loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.”
For the Vineyard, the plight of the world’s refugees is, and must be, a vital concern of our local church communities. We seek to live out, and live within, Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God. Many of our churches already work with refugees and know how difficult their backgrounds have been, how genuine their aspirations are today, and how positive their contributions continue to be to their respective communities.
In accord with the Scriptures, we as Christians believe the eternal Kingdom of God supersedes the framework of contemporary American politics, and at the same time compels us to be good citizens (Rom. 13:1-7) who pray for our leaders in government (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
For these reasons:
We can choose to act toward refugees with empathy and attentive compassion. We want to build bridges to those in need, and can choose bridge-building language in all our communications as believers in Christ, as Vineyard churches, as individuals on social media, and in any arena in which we are given a voice.
We can choose love over fear as we acknowledge that those who support the immigration ban reference a fear that Americans will not be safe. But we believe love is greater than fear. This enables us to love and serve those Jesus taught us to consider the “least of these.”
We can love all people, including our current President, as we serve those Jesus taught us to consider the “least of these.”
As a non-American, some of what Phil writes doesn’t apply to me. But as a citizen of the kingdom of God, seen breaking in at least in part as a network of prayerful relationships that transcend boundaries and call people to Christ, I can pray and say ‘yes and amen!’ to what he writes.
This week I’ve been fortunate enough to be at a Leadership conference in the UK. Those of you who follow me on Twitter can put a brand to that. But the thing that struck me, in the same week that the President of the United States of America banned people from entering that country, leaders of one little chicken nugget of the Church in England gathered and heard from two former refugees. Over a thousand of us – from churches across the British Isles (And some further afield) heard how Jesus had led two beautiful people out of Islam, into his Kingdom, and empowered them by the Holy Spirit to do immeasurably more in ministry and mission than I could dream of. Subject to permissions, I’ll share more about that in the future.
The aforementioned verse from Deuteronomy 10:18 are, as with all scripture, set in a wider context. The section that we find ourself looking at starts with an echo/foreshadowing/early version of Micah 6:8,
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God will all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?“
This is God, speaking directly to God’s people. So much so that God had to repeat himself in Micah, and in the person of Jesus. But I digress.
And so we get to one of these commands, the one that some of us in the West find very difficult to obey:
“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt“
A pedant might say that it is God saying he will do the stuff. But the challenge remains, contra the default attitude of our political hearts; ‘love those who are foreigners…‘.
How can you be part of welcoming and inviting refugees, both spiritual and political/religious/geographical, into the Kingdom of God, where you are?