Voices: A border that perpetuates suffering is not worth defending

Refugee families who fled fighting in the Kobani district of Syria eke out an existence in a tent city in the Suruc district of Turkey. (Orlok / Shutterstock, Inc.)

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It is my hope and prayer that by the time this column is published, it is obsolete, and President Trump’s executive order concerning a ban on refugees has been rescinded or struck down by the courts.

Myles Werntz 150Myles WerntzBarring that hope, Christians should continue to remember not only the facts regarding refugees and safety, but also, for Christians, nothing less than our gospel witness is at stake. If we are not moved by the sheer percentage of refugees who are in fact children or by the already laborious vetting process in place for refugees, let us be moved by the judgment of God.

Matthew 25, particularly for Protestants, typically has been a passage that has been taken with a grain of salt. As John Thiel details, Protestants—Baptists included—have done a bit of hand-waving when it comes to passages surrounding divine judgment for moral behavior. To think Christians could actually be held accountable for their works runs crosswise to our doctrine of salvation.

The way of Jesus

TBV stackedHere, however, it is important to note that for Scripture, disciples are those who have a coherence of confession and practice; no sooner does Peter confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord than Peter is rebuked by Jesus for false associations with that confession.

As Christians approach the issues surrounding refugees, it is important we do so not from the perspective of national sovereignty, but from the perspective of scriptural hospitality. In this, we trust the way of Jesus is the way of God, and disciples entrust their safety to the Lord when following.

With this in mind, when searching for how Christians are to act when it comes to the suffering of that miniscule number of refugees who will be resettled, we do so in light of our call to be disciples and not out of fear. For if we must fear, let it be for fear of betraying our Lord and being found wanting in the last days. 

Moral care of nations

The arguments that pit national sovereignty over against the call of the Christian should, at this point, be put away. For if we see anything from the Old Testament, it is that God cares deeply about the moral care nations give, and very little about what we call national sovereignty, at least in our moral reasoning. There is a place for wise, prudential governance, but when Christians begin to use prudence as a cover for fearfulness, we have moved into a dangerous place.

Christians are people called to exercise hospitality for many reasons, but primarily, we exercise it because of who we are in Christ—ones who were alien to God who have been made heirs and co-sharers in the very nature of God. As Christine Pohl rightly notes, this is a habit Christians now, perhaps more than ever, are in need of recovering as Christians, as legislation is being proposed which would end this support. Christians should rightly do this in any event, regardless of state legislation, but seek that vision for their world as well.

Friends, there are many moments when as a collective group, Christians will be called—by God—to rise to the occasion. This is one of those moments, among many others, which have come and which are yet to come.

Let us not shrink back from doing good. Let us not shrink back from courage. And let us not shrink back from proclaiming that a border that would prevent the suffering from entering is not, from the perspective of the Scriptures, a border worth defending.

Myles Werntz is assistant professor of Christian ethics and practical theology and the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary in Abilene. Email him at Myles.Werntz@hsutx.edu.

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