Helping our church family find a right response to the Syrian immigrants.
Talk about a house divided! My social media feed is flooded with Christians who want to open the borders and those who demand they be closed. Both feel this way out of strong Christian duty. Ironically, both sides are driven to protect and help the innocent.
So what is a right response? I’ll propose what I think it should be and then support it.
We should personally love the immigrants and also expect the government to work to protect its people. These two ideas are NOT mutually exclusive. How you may ask?
There is an important Scriptural understanding that needs desperately understood. There are moral expectations mandated for individuals in Scripture that are a bit different for civil institutions. Yes, principles overlap, but how they play out at times differs greatly between an individual and a government.
- Murder is wrong yet capital punishment is not.
- If someone breaks into my house and I ruthlessly fight them, even take their life to protect my family, this isn’t wrong if done within the law. However, playing the role of vigilante roaming the streets would be.
- A soldier taking lives to protect our country under the direction of the government is not wrong, but on his own traveling overseas to go kill people he doesn’t like would be.
- A government carefully vetting immigrants to protect its people is not at all wrong, yet we are personally called as Christians to quickly love the immigrant, even our enemies.
How can these co-exist? Personal moral directives in Scripture do not always line up equally with civil responsibility.
Let me explain.
Yes, the Bible, especially the New Testament, is written mostly to individuals. This is personal Christian morality. For example, books like 1 Peter, 1 Timothy and many others give clear instruction on how individuals should live even in caustic environments. Being respectful of authority, praying for civil leaders, and living quiet productive lives seems tough now, but imagine how hard it would have been within the boundaries of heavily persecuting Rome. We are called to take care of widows and orphans (James 1:27). We are even called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-48). That’s personal Christian morality. Most of the New Testament is written to this.
What about Civil responsibility?
This is a bit harder to see because the intention of the Scriptural narrative is so personal, but it is there.
The apostle Peter says the government should punish those who do evil and praise those who do good (1 Peter 2:14). Paul says civil leaders are authorized by God to “bear the sword” against wrongdoers (Romans 13:3-4). We are even called to pay taxes to assist them in these tasks (v. 6-7). Even the Old Testament is filled with stories of God calling his leaders to protect their people from other aggressor nations like the Philistines, Babylonians, and Assyrians. God condemns aggression from one man to another, but knowing the evil that man brought into the world allows national warfare to protect people within societies and preserve their nation. There are different Hebrew words for taking life. Sinful murder Biblically (ratsakh) is death outside of legal boundaries or by negligence. God detests this.
It’s important to note there is ultimate divine accountability for civil leaders. The Bible is equally FULL of examples of those with power and influence being judged by God for how they use their power, not only personally but civilly.
I believe it is right to expect our government to work hard to protect us. We can and should support that!
It would be morally wrong for them not to. We should be very proud of our soldiers and civil workers that tirelessly work for the common good of their citizens. We should also as Christian individuals be the first in line to adopt young Syrian orphans and feed the widows. For those who demand our leaders open the borders, are you equally willing to open your home to refugees? We should also personally pray for change in those who have evil intent. I can’t tell you how many times I have prayed that God would open the door for missionaries to work with those from countries like Syria. God is now bringing them to us! We can and should do this all while supporting our troops and the government’s attempt to protect its people. These are NOT mutually exclusive ideas.
Photos were acquired from national news site Reuters.