Refugee: a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
Several years ago, my son Jeremy and I were on a Southwest airlines flight to Houston. This was back in the day when they had a few seats on the plane that faced each other. Jeremy and I were sitting face-to-face with a young man who was wearing a cap with the logo “No Fear” that you used to see often. It was a rough trip, and after the plane took a few sharp bounces and turns, the young man wearing the “No Fear” cap was scared to death. So scared that when the plane landed, he bolted from the rear of the plane and was first out the door. He needed a reminder of what he advertised on his cap. I remembered this incident when I began to think about the Christian response to the refugee issue going on today.
There is a bunch of talk – wait, let me rephrase that statement: there is way-too-much talk about refugees. It all started when Islamic radicals began imposing stringent restrictions on other Muslim followers. The conversation gained traction a few months ago when news reports showed thousands of refugees headed toward Europe, highlighted by that horrific photo of a young child lying dead on a beach. Then, the entire discussion spun out of control when the terrorists terrorized Paris. Now we are faced with the issue of what to do with all the refugees.
However, my subject is not Syrian refugees, but rather American Christian Refugees. It has become obvious to me that as Christians, we are tempted to flee the Christian faith over issues like this. Hold on a second, before you click to another link because you don’t want to read an article about the American church losing members, I’m not talking about Christians who have quit going to church. I’m referring to Christians who are fleeing the faith because of fear. They are refugees from the faith, but many are still very active in church.
Once again, let me caution you not to jump the gun and assume I am speaking about atheists who are harassing and belittling Christians causing them to walk away from their childhood beliefs. Perhaps I am naïve, but I don’t see that as a problem. Most atheists are not evangelistic, and care little if we want to be religious. And most of us pay little attention to the arguments put forth by atheists.
The temptation to become a Christian refugee I reference is felt by church leaders, active church attenders, and even vocal defenders of the faith. If the posts on my Facebook page, the claims by politicians, and the stories in the news are anywhere near accurate, then there are numerous Christian refugees among us in America.
Let me see if I can explain. A refugee is someone who flees their home out of fear. The home for these refugees has always been the Christian faith. However, because of fear they are abandoning that faith quicker than a lightening flash in a spring storm.
The Christian faith has always been, at least since the time of the founder Jesus, the place of taking care of the suffering, outcast, poor, and despised. One of my favorite stories, since I was first taught it over and over as a child, is Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan.
In case you don’t recall, it goes like this. A man was beaten, robbed, and left to die on a dangerous, desolate road. The first two to pass by were religious leaders, but they continued on as if they did not see the man. Perhaps they ignored him because they did not care, but more likely out of fear, because it was a trail on the wrong side of the tracks.
A third man, identified as a Samaritan, came by. It was an important detail since the Samaritans were despised in Jesus’ day. Perhaps today we would call him a Muslim or a Syrian or an African-American, whatever your prejudice might be. This man took the risk, bandaged the wounds, loaded the man up, and took him to the hospital.
The point of Jesus’ tale is that He expects His followers to be like the Samaritan. It is expected that we should risk our safety, our possessions, our security when we encounter someone in need. Jesus said final judgment would not be based on whether we recited the “Sinner’s Prayer,” but based on our care and concern for those who have been beaten and bruised by the world (see Matthew 25).
Yet, as we are experiencing today, massive numbers of Christians, out of fear, have been tempted to flee the Christian faith that is characterized by these words of Jesus. It is the temptation to become a refugee from the Christian faith. When we are afraid our own safety will be jeopardized by reaching out in compassion to those in need then we are refugees from the faith of Jesus. Like the first two travelers in Jesus’ story of the Samaritan, concern for our own safety has caused us to adopt a new home, one that is not the Christian faith.
The possibility of losing security is not the only fear that can cause us to become Christian refugees. There is also a fear losing our lifestyle. Like many of you, I’m comfortable where I live, and with all the stuff I have accumulated to make this life possible. I am tempted to do whatever is necessary in order to keep it all safe, even if it means not taking care of the poor. When we get to the point of not being able to give generously, even if we have wealth, we have become refugees from the Christian faith. It is best noticed in those who can’t afford to give generously to those in need because they have to make their house/car/boat payments.
This idea comes across in our political positions when we are more concerned with keeping our taxes low than in providing for the poor. When we are more concerned about the money in our pocket or the balance in our checking account than we are about those with no money in their pockets and no checking account, then we have left the faith. We are truly Christian refugees—those leaving their home out of fear. When we live in fear of losing our lifestyle we are not walking the path Jesus called us to walk (see 1 Timothy 6:10).
I also see a third fear, and that is the fear of losing our rights. It has always been perplexing to hear Christians talk about having “rights.” That is a concept that seems foreign to the New Testament. The only incident that comes to mind of a believer having rights is the Apostle Paul appealing to his right as a Roman citizen to have an official appeal to Caesar (Acts 25). However, in that case, he did not fight for his right out of fear; he simply utilized a right he already owned as a citizen. He was not fighting to keep his right, but simply utilized his right.
Refugees are driven by fear, which makes it the strangest of ironies for Christians to be afraid. There are numerous reminders in scripture that we should not be afraid. One of the clearest expressions was made by Jesus Himself (see Matthew 6:24-34). The final remark Jesus made in that passage is that non-believers are the ones who live in fear of not having security or provisions; it is not something that should concern His followers.
There are many Christian refugees—people who have wandered away from the true Christian faith because of fear of losing something valuable to them.
Some will remind me that we are not only Christians, but also we are Americans. Therefore, we have an obligation to fight for our security, possessions, and rights. People will say they are not leaving the faith; they are simply defending their country, which is founded on their faith.
I don’t disagree with that fact that as Americans we have a responsibility to protect our nation, which includes our freedoms and our stuff. However, the problem comes when we place our American citizenship over our Kingdom citizenship. Whenever our responsibility as an American stands in opposition to our Christian faith, it will be evident which one is the most important to us.
Let me illustrate by using the Syrian refugee issue. God’s word, in particular the words of Jesus, is very clear that we have a responsibility to open our doors to care for those who are in danger. By the way, that is exactly what caused Lot’s problems with his neighbors in the city of Sodom—he opened his home to strangers. Thousands of folks are fleeing war, persecution, poverty, and certain death. We have the opportunity to open our homes (borders) for them to find safety. Yet, out of fear, we are tempted to slam the door shut on them.
This is not the place to debate the risk or the vetting process. My point is that as followers of Jesus there is no room for fear being a part of the argument. When we make a decision to turn them away based on fear then we have wandered away from the faith of Jesus, and we have become refugees ourselves.
Fear is a real thing experienced by all of us in varying degrees. It is capable of plaguing and paralyzing our lives. However, as followers of Jesus, we must never allow fear to cause us to wander away from the faith and become Christian refugees.
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From whence shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night. The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever. (Psalms 121:1-8)
In a few weeks we will gather in our churches and listen to the story, or perhaps see it played out on stage in front of our eyes, of Joseph and Mary on a perilous journey. When we come to the part about them being turned away because there was no room in the inn, if you are like me you will feel a touch of anger within your heart, and perhaps hear yourself say, “I would have let them in.” The truth is, we still have the opportunity to allow Jesus into our homes. Remember, it is Jesus who said, “…to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).
Please be careful and do not allow your concerns as an American citizen take precedence over your obligations as a Kingdom citizen.