The Problem With Closing Doors to Refugees and Immigrants
February 21, 2017
Joshua S. Hill is a 30-something writer from Melbourne, Australia. You can read more of his writing on worship, and book reviews, on his personal website and follow him on Twitter @JoshSHill.
I recently heard a Christian teacher and speaker explain that people immigrating to America must be willing to “join the American project.”
This man’s argument was that those who made America a “nation of immigrants” came to become American—“they wanted to be Americans, not just to live in America.” The difference, he said, between these and Muslim immigrants—specifically those subject to the proposed refugee ban— is that the Muslim immigrants don’t want to assimilate into American culture, they just want to live here.
In other words, there are different classes of immigrants.
I was struck by this argument, because it seems to mislead in several areas. Not only does it cast every non-Muslim immigrant who has ever arrived on America’s shores as unanimously wanting to be a peaceful part of the “American project,” but it conversely portrayed every Muslim who wants to immigrate to America as rejecting of that.
This argument could lead to trouble.
No doubt there have been and are many people who have come to America simply to transplant their existing culture onto new soil—in fact, you can make the argument that that was how America was founded in the first place. As a result, there are many neighborhoods and cities throughout this country that exhibit a different multicultural feel than others. In a way, that is part of what makes America what it is.
We should not resort to nationalistic tendencies and ways of thinking which preordain our rights over the rights of newcomers.
Similarly, such a black-and-white argument dismisses the hopes and dreams of hundreds of thousands who want to escape their war-torn countries to reach safe haven. Not all of them necessarily want to become Americans, many just want safety.
Unfortunately, America is not alone in this. From Australia to Russia, Hungary and Belgium and France to the United States, countries all over the world are beginning to shift toward a nationalist way of thinking; “Us first, then we’ll think about others … maybe.”
How then should Christians respond to immigration bans and restrictions, and attitudes that marginalize immigrants and refugees?
We should not assume a one-size-fits-all mentality exists for all immigrants and refugees.
A professing Muslim is as likely to hold to the rigorous strictures of the Koran and Islam as a professing Christian is likely to do all the Bible says—which is to say, not much. Originating in a “predominantly Muslim country” does not inherently equal fanatical devotion to Islam. Nor does even fanatical devotion to Islam necessarily represent a threat to the everyday lives of Westerners.
Let go of your prejudices.
We should not resort to nationalistic tendencies and ways of thinking which preordain our rights over the rights of newcomers. Borders are not a creation of God but of man, and even if they were, we are repeatedly told we are not citizens of this world anymore, but rather, that “our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20) Further, God, through his Son Jesus, made Jews and Gentiles out of two separate nationalities into a “new man” in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:11-22).
Let go of your pride.
We should not imagine ourselves to be somehow "better" or "different" than anyone else simply because they are from somewhere else, or believe something different. There are Christians who point to specific teachings in Islam that instruct all Muslims to convert all non-believers and to put everything under Islamic (Sharia) law.
Many use this scare tactic as a reason to keep Muslims out, yet under the same thinking surely Christians should be expelled from all "right-thinking" nations as well—for isn’t that what we are called to do? Didn’t Jesus Himself tell His disciples, and thus all of us, to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you”? (Matthew 28:19-20)
Rather, instead of creating imaginary and often self-contradictory scare tactics to bolster non-existent Biblical teaching, shouldn’t we refer to what the Bible actually says? We are to both respect the law of man, but to recognize that it is subservient to God’s law. (Romans 13:1-7; Luke 20:25; Acts 5:29) We must respect and love one another as we would do so for ourselves and those we love. (John 13:34-34; Luke 6:27-36) “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)
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