Biblical Ethics, Government, and Refugees

How do you balance the desire to rescue refugees with the desire to keep terrorists out of your own country?

As you wrestle through the issue, you are aware that your job according to the Bible is to protect your people. Your job as a believer in Christ is to demonstrate biblical ethics, which also includes showing kindness to refugees. Both are God-given principles that you must balance. As you imagine the dilemma that person is faced with, do you now understand how superficial it makes Christianity look if Christian leaders are saying the issue is as simple as Levitical law about refugees?

 

Relevant Magazine recently ran a post called “What the Bible says about how to treat refugees.” To help you understand where they are coming from, remember that Relevant seems to exist primarily to tie Christian ethics to whatever cause célèbre has captured the kids these days. The list was frustrating to read not because of what it said, but what it omitted (to spare you the click, the gist is that Christians should open their borders to refugees).

But the actual refugee problem runs deeper than that, and it is yet further evidence of the juvenilization of evangelical thought that actual theologians think the issue of Syrian refugees should be settled by pointing to Levitical law about letting foreigners reap in your grain field.

At risk of sounding pedantic, this is a complex issue with competing interests and ethics. Namely:  

Christian ethics in government?

First, should governments exercise Christian ethics? If in the context of a debate about a bill in Congress regulating refugees from Syria, a person is going to argue that Levitical Law should guide us, does that mean that Congress should be influenced by the Bible’s ethics?

I say yes, Congress should be guided by biblical ethics. But I couldn’t help but notice that people making the “Leviticus says you should receive refugees” argument were—only a few weeks ago—saying that government workers were not supposed to follow their religion whilst on the clock. Remember Kim Davis?

But I’ll take a victory where I can, and so for the sake of this argument let’s agree that the government should operate based on biblical principles.

Levitical Law for the USA?

Levitical Law concerning refugees was grounded in the basic fact that God cared for Israel while she was enslaved in Egypt and while she was wandering in the wilderness, so they should care for others who were enslaved and are now refugees. In this video, Master’s Seminary’s Michael Grisanti argues that Deuteronomy 10:18-20 is a key passage explaining this dynamic:

“[Yahweh] executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.  So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall fear Yahweh your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.”

It is clear that Mosaic Law commanded the Israelites to care for sojourners and exiles. But this is contingent on a few presuppositions, not the least of which is that Israel itself had purged the idols from within her own boarders. Deuteronomy 10 is surrounded by passages about idolatry (9 is the rebuke for the golden calf, and 11 is the appeal for the Israelites to break from idol worship).

In other words, Israel was supposed to be a beacon of truth in the middle of a world of lies. And when people wanted truth, they would flee to Israel. When people were hopeless (as in the case of Ruth) or hopeful (as in the case of the Queen of Sheeba), then Israel would be the place they could come and find Yahweh.

To the extent to which I agree with the Relevant take on refugees, it is right here: God cared for Israel when they were persecuted, so those that worship the God of Israel should care for others who are persecuted.

Does this apply to the USA?

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