According to Jesus’ teachings, it might appear that we should receive all of the Syrian refugees:
- Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:44-48)
According to Jesus, it would seem that, even if a large percentage of refugees might radicalize, we are to love our enemies. How then can we Christians justify keeping them out of their nations?
Perhaps a distinction is necessary. There are different spheres of responsibility, which Jesus hinted at when He distinguished rendering to God what is God’s and to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Consequently, it is possible to fulfill our obligation to God even as we rendered unto Caesar what is due to Caesar and uphold their responsibility to maintain safety and justice.
But how does this distinction pertain to the refugee question? Paul’s teachings reflected those of Jesus:
- Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21)
Clearly, there is a sharp distinction between what we should be doing and what God does. While we are to love our enemies and not seek revenge, God will do the avenging. He will repay evil with what it deserves. What a blessing this is! We can love others and leave questions of justice and punishment to God and His righteous wrath.
However, this wrath is not merely reserved for the final judgment. Instead, God has ordained government – the civil authorities – to execute His wrath, as Paul explains in the next verses:
- Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves… For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. (Romans 13:1-5)
The courts and penal system are not supposed to exercise love and forgiveness. This would undermine the entire justice system, the welfare of society, and even God’s just intentions to bring His wrath on evildoers. Instead, it is the justice system that allows us to live lives of love and forgiveness. It bears the sword so that we are freed from this responsibility.
In light of this necessary distinction, how then do we understand Jesus’ love teachings? His teachings were not intended to correct the Mosaic justice system. In fact, He never even spoke against the oppressive Roman rule. He never suggested that the Romans should give to whomever asks or that they should turn the other cheek. He understood that this wasn’t the role of government.
When Jesus did teach about the responsibility of government, it was church government, and it too wasn’t always indulgent:
- “If he [the unrepentant] refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:17-18)
While, on a personal level, we are to love even our enemies, church government was entrusted with a slightly different calling. The Church could punish by excommunication, even when the church consisted with only two others. However, this too was an expression of love – tough love! (This is a truth echoed in the Epistles, 1 Cor. 5; 1 Tim.1:20.) Yes, we are to give, but to give with discernment!
Although we personally might decide to endure some abuse for the sake of the Gospel, Jesus’ teachings suggest that we need not. We are free to bring our grievances to the Church or to the justice system, especially when the abuse might be expressed towards others, even our families.
Jesus never suggested that we should subject others to abuse. Instead, His teachings implied the legitimacy of protecting our household and community (Matthew 24:42-44).
Being as “wise as serpents but as gentle as doves,” we should extend ourselves to those in need. However, we should expect our government to fulfill their mandated task of protecting and providing peace and justice, as theologian Michael Brown has written:
- The government should major on security; the Church should major on compassion. I don’t mean that the government should be harsh or that the Church should be foolish, but it is not the primary job of the government to care for the needs of refugees and it is not the primary job of the Church to provide national security. The government should do its very best to shut the doors on any potential terrorists, even if that means slowing down the process of absorbing refugees.
- [Government] must assiduously work against the plague of radical Islam, even if the vast majority of Muslim refugees are not radicals.
Brown might be minimizing the problem of the refugees. It appears that the Islamic communities of Western Europe have become so radicalized that they have appropriated for themselves 100s or maybe 1000s of “no-go-zones,” mini-Caliphates, even transforming their host nations into rape capitals, despite the alleged majority of moderate Muslims.
Nevertheless, we must treat with courage and love those Muslims who are already residing in our nations, demonstrating to them the mercy of Jesus.
But we also have to be knowledgeable about the dangers. We are to be children of the light, exemplars of a wisdom that should nourish our neighbors and not subject them to rape and beheadings:
- The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death. (Proverbs 13:14)
- The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction. Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it, but folly brings punishment to fools. A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction. (Proverbs 16:21-23)
With wisdom, we can be a blessing to our community and glorify the Lord. Instead, by placing our community in jeopardy by insisting on the re-settlement of dangerous refugees in our community, we potentially bring disrepute upon our faith.