Fear, Compassion, and Refugees


I couldn’t help but notice that the internet is abuzz with much discussion on the subject of refugees this week. I’m trying to wrap my head around it, so allow me to generalize my observations of the political debate: Conservatives are opposed to immigration and refugees because they tend to believe that national prosperity and national security trump all else. Liberals, on the other hand, see immigrants and refugees as noble foot soldiers in the battle for multiculturalism and racial equality (and also as easily manipulated idiot voters).

When they argue, they’re completely missing each other’s points, because the conservatives won’t attack multiculturalism for fear of being called racists, and the liberals don’t want to talk about prosperity for fear of sounding like capitalists. But despite being on opposite wavelengths, it’s an argument that both sides really want to have, because conservatives like to deal with things that they are afraid of, like terrorists, and the liberals like to point out things that we all should be afraid of, like mean conservatives.

Then there is the Christian debate. I’ve read a few thoughtful articles and a lot of impassioned comments. I’ve seen memes and verses misused interchangeably, and have had a lot of people ask me which side I come down on: Should America shut down her borders to defend our families from certain death, or should the U.S. bring in any and every huddled mass and set them up with kind, loving Federally-funded financial support? Blind fear, or dumb compassion?

And the answer is: Neither. Let me explain why.

In the first place, most of the arguments I’ve heard for both sides are based on problematic assumptions. There are bad assumptions about Muslims, about terrorism, but the real problem is that almost everybody unthinkingly assumes that the Federal government should control the flow of all peoples. That the State must issue and require passports, monitor all traffic, and keep a really close eye on several different categories of people. And if that sounds unfair to anyone, then maybe it’s the government’s job to keep a really close eye on everybody, just to be safe.

In almost every argument I’ve heard, there is an emotionally-charged demand for increased government authority. The fearful anti-refugee crowd wants more government power to keep them out, and the compassionate pro-refugee crowd wants more government power to take care of them, but ultimately, on both sides, Christians who should know better are foolishly arguing that the government must seize more power. The tragic events in Paris notwithstanding, hard cases and mass emotion make for bad laws.

But almost nobody has asked, what saith the Scriptures? The best article I’ve read so far is by Dr. Joel McDurmon (who, incidentally, was a speaker at the Freedom 2015 conference). He points out that the people of Israel were commanded to fear God, and to treat strangers and aliens as equals under the Law of God, not as inferiors like the Israelites had been in bondage and exile. The flip side of this, of course, is that visitors and immigrants don’t get the special-favored-person status which modern democracies give them – no welfare handouts to attract parasites and spongers, and no special legal exemptions that will attract lawbreakers and trouble makers. This, by the way, is true compassion.

But if a nation decides not to follow God’s laws, we shouldn’t be surprised to see a chain reaction of bad pragmatic decisions driving other bad pragmatic decisions. As soon as the State began paying for the care of the poor and education of children, migrants became an expensive liability. The arguments then were the same as now; compassion for the poor, and fear of mooching outsiders. That’s why social services, income tax, and mandatory passport border control all began to pop up one after the other in the early 1900s. That’s why our nation today has assumed enough power to to fund the importation of Syrian Muslim draft dodgers, and fund the forceful barring of Syrian Christian genocide victims at the same time.

It is not the government’s job to bring immigrants in, and it is not its job to keep immigrants out. This is a perfect example of government using not-its-money to do not-its-job, and all because of misplaced compassion and misplaced fear. Now is not the time to demand that the government seize even more power in the interest of our safety. As McDurmon points out, “We cannot tighten the borders enough to stop a motivated terrorist, and the more we tighten, the more we destroy freedom for everyone else.”

Here’s what that’s looking like in France right now: there are calls to ban French citizens from large gatherings (because terrorists might attack them), calls to ban French citizens from being able to visit monuments and other landmarks (because terrorists might bomb them), calls to ban French citizens from having public wifi (because terrorists might use it to hide), calls to ban French citizens from having encryption software (because terrorists might use it to communicate), and much talk of tighter gun controls (even though terrorists have always used guns that are already illegal).

When people leave God’s laws in the interest of personal protection, they are no longer trusting in God, but the State. And when they give up freedom in the interest of safety, they are creating a tyranny. This, like always, is a bad time to make yet another pragmatic decision. The good news is that this, like always, is a great time to fear God, and show compassion to sojourners by returning to God’s Word.

  1. Hello Isaac and Heidi,

    in this very interesting article you have pointed at the problems, but have not suggested any possible, specific solution.

    God bless!

    - Carolina G.C.
    1. True, I kind of left that up to Dr. McDurmon to explain, but it is specifically this: Governments must restrict themselves the limits that Scripture sets, and then, within those limits, meet the requirements that Scripture sets.

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