America is not the Promised Land

Christians who have voiced concern about Syrian immigration have been met with a wave of articles challenging their compassion, courage, and love. The consensus of many has been that loving Syrian refugees in a Christ-exalting way means supporting immigration. My concern with this conclusion has to do with the way Old Testament passages are being used to support it.

The selections below are from an article featured on Overall, the article has a very positive message that highlights the opportunities for evangelism created by immigration. However, I’m afraid the brief discussion of the Old Testament texts may leave the door open for confusion for some regarding our responsibility to these refugees.

The author frames the political conflict by saying:

In the wake of terror attacks in Paris and Beirut, the response from Americans — even among Christians — has been as strong as it is divided. While many have called for Americans to follow their nobler impulses and respond in compassion, courage, and love by welcoming refugees, many others (including now a majority of the country’s state governors) have voiced their strong disapproval for accepting any refugees, citing significant security concerns.

 David Crabb Building His Church in a Refugee Crisis – (full article available here)

From his vantage point, those who support immigration are operating out of compassion, courage, and love. I think we must avoid making the inference that all those who do not support immigration are operating out of the less noble impulses of fear and hate. While clearly some of the loudest voices of opposition are full of hate, there are also some compassionate and loving voices that recognize the Christian’s responsibility to protect all of our current neighbors from terror.

Crabb turns to the Old Testament and a passage from Matthew to support the idea that showing compassion and love means welcoming Syrian refugees:

God cares about these refugees suffering, and so should we. This is an opportunity for us to “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” (Jeremiah 22:3). The heart of our Father towards refugees is evident throughout the Scripture: “Let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you; be a shelter to them from the destroyer” (Isaiah 16:4). When we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, and clothe the naked, we do so as unto the Lord (Matthew 25:34–40).

“Doing justice and righteousness” is extremely important. It is the foundation of David’s eternal throne (Psalm 89:14) and the only condition God placed on his covenant promises to Abraham.

“For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” Genesis 18:19 ESV

Thank you Jesus for keeping this condition “by doing righteousness and justice” perfectly (2 Corinthians 1:20).

The Question: What does “doing righteousness and justice” entail for us today in this crisis?

In the second verse cited, Isaiah 16:4, we see a great example of what it means to “do justice and righteousness.”

“Let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you; be a shelter to them from the destroyer.” (Isaiah 16:4)

eye_world_squareThe book of Ruth is a picture of this verse in action. As a Moabite, Ruth had been cursed by God and excluded from the assembly of the Lord for the rejection of his people on the way out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 23:3). However, she decides to abandon her former life and cling to a Jew from Bethlehem. Naomi had left the comfort of her own country to go across the Jordan River into enemy territory. Ruth clung to Naomi. Because of her faithfulness to this Jew she found safe passage across the Jordan and an inheritance among God’s covenant people in the land of promise. It is essential to remember that the asylum Ruth found in Israel was entirely different than if she had become a citizen of Egypt. In addition to food and safety, she gained a King in Israel who promised to give her a hope and a future.

So how do we welcome the Moabite in our current situation?

The outcasts from Moab are those who have rejected God and suffer from the curse of being excluded from his assembly and the covenants of promise (Ephesians 2:12). Isaiah 16:4 and the story of Ruth show that outcasts can still have a seat at the table in the kingdom of God. The New Testament fulfillment is that a person who has rejected God might still find peace, security, and an inheritance among God’s covenant people by clinging to a Jew from Bethlehem.

What I mean is the New Testament fulfillment of Isaiah 16:4 is not immigration to America. America is not the Promised Land.

I believe David Crabb would agree with this point as the emphasis of his article is on refugees finding asylum in Christ through the unique God-ordained evangelism opportunities that immigration creates. However, many of the 80k people who shared the article on social media are probably like me, conditioned to read the Old Testament and jump straight to application without filtering it through a New Testament lens.

The opportunities for evangelism that will come from immigration are a beautiful picture of God taking what men meant for evil and turning it for good. They are, however, only a small part of the biblical model. The author states that those welcoming refugees into the country are the ones showing compassion, courage, and love. I’m sure that is the motivation of many, but sometimes politics can be used as a smokescreen by the church to avoid our true calling.

What is our calling?

Certainly it is to show love with reckless abandon in the way we welcome refugees, but we are called to welcome them into our family, not (just) our country or our neighborhood.

Overwhelmingly the biblical mandate is to “Go!” Like Naomi, we are to take the gospel across the Jordan into enemy territory and invite people to live “among us” as those who eagerly wait for a city that is to come. My favorite passage that illustrates this concept is Hebrews 13:11-14:

“For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” ESV

Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan

Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan

Outside the city gate is where crucifixions took place, where bodies were burned, and where the lepers set up refugee camps.

The call is to go outside the city gate and to “pour ourselves out as a drink offering” in order that some might find citizenship in heaven. Self-sacrifice is the only type of sacrifice the Bible commends and the gospel demands. To require the same level of sacrifice from our unbelieving neighbors is not consistent with our calling.

Also, due to current legislation there will still be less than 15,000 Syrian refugees in the United States by the end of 2016. By that time Jordan will have nearly 2,000,000.

Let us leave the temporary security of cities that will not last and GO to where Jesus is, outside the camp, and suffer with him as we “fill up what is still lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24).

Our calling is to go to Syrian refugees and welcome them to live “among us” as God’s children who are waiting for citizenship in the New Jerusalem. Hopefully, as the government catches up to the demands of the crisis, we will be able to do this more and more in the context of our own neighborhoods. However, our calling exists independent of government policy and our faithfulness to Isaiah 16:4 will not ultimately be accomplished through any immigration law.

We should continue to push our government to help these people, but in doing so we must remember that our ability to welcome refugees into the commonwealth of Israel will never be compromised by any politician or the walls they threaten to build.

Whether it is at home or abroad, the people truly “doing righteousness and justice” in this crisis are with the refugees right now.

Bradley Mooney is the recruiting coordinator at the Kanakuk Institute and graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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