The Danger in Borders: Valuing Refugees in the Age of Terrorism


The prophet Jonah received direction from God to go and preach to the people of the city of Nineveh, warning them of their impending destruction. Jonah instead, as you may be aware, immediately undertook a journey in the opposite direction from Nineveh.

Later in the book of the prophet, we learn why Jonah did this.

"I knew that you [God] are gracious. You are tender and kind. You are slow to get angry. You are full of love. You are a God who takes pity on people. You don’t want to destroy them [the Ninevites]."

Jonah hated the people of Nineveh. Perhaps the people of Nineveh, a brutal people, had wronged Israelite, or perhaps their reputation simply preceded them. Whatever the reason, Jonah did not want to see forgiveness given to these people who existed outside the land of God's chosen people - the Jews.

Jonah valued the identity of his fellow countymen and women so much, he was unable to provide ministry leading essentially to the salvation of the people of another nation-state.

It was only after God went to great lengths that Jonah complied with the direction of a God who, much to his dismay, held affection for his enemies.

God would not allow his prophet to love borders more than people.

When this same God walked the earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, we continue to see this in evidence.

Jesus, on multiple occasions not only reaches out to the outcasts of his own society, but people of other nationalities as well.

When his disciples discovered Jesus talking with a Samaritan woman, they literally don't know what to say.. Even the woman herself is initially shocked that Jesus is talking to her.

Jesus specifically traveled to areas outside the boundaries of Israel on occasion to share news of God's kingdom with those beyond the boundaries of Israel.

When Jesus ordered the community of people who believed in him as messiah to spread the Good News of God's redemption to the ends of the earth, they promptly stayed right where they were in Jerusalem.

It was scandalous when Peter went and ate with a Gentile...and Peter initially refused the idea until God compelled him. (see Acts 10)

It wasn't until persecution drove believers out of Israel that the message of Christ began to be known outside of the Middle East.

If it weren't for God's choice to love all people, regardless of boundaries, you and I would not have heard the news of God's salvation for us.

Paul goes so far as to say that in the message of Christ, all of our perceived barriers are torn down.

"There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

These are incredibly radical claims. Far less radical than me saying that there is no longer American or Syrian in the eyes of the Gospel.

You may say that most Syrians are Muslim and therefore concepts of the Body of Christ don't apply to them. I would argue back that creating boundaries which prevent the Gospel of Jesus from being shared is likely to create and maintain that issue.

I'm not America-bashing here. I'm grateful to live in this country, and I'm not renouncing my citizenship as an American any more than Jesus, Peter or Paul renounced their citizenship. Nor is Paul arguing in Galatians that such statuses don't exist. Rather, he is arguing that a greater source of identity is present: one that overrides all other identifications.

Peter's revelation when God sends him to the Roman Centurion Cornelius is that "God does not show favoritism."

God's mission and purpose extend far beyond any boundaries, they always have. When God blessed Abraham, he specifically said it was so that the entire world would be blessed.

The Great Commission of Jesus is focused on sharing his Good News to the entire world, bar none.

In the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, Jesus neither commends nor criticizes anyone for nationalism or patriotism. It seems to be entirely beside the point in the kingdom of God.

Paul went so far in his methodology that he said would leave his identity behind and adopt the identity of those he was ministering to.

When we sit in the relative safety of our lives in America and say we should not accept refugees out of the risk that a terrorist may sneak through our system, I would lovingly push back and ask how you are becoming a refugee to the refugees so that you may point them to the abundant life Christ offers us all?

Now, I don't want to be too big of a hypocrite here, I certainly haven't sold all my goods and fled for my life to become a refugee living in dangerous and squalid conditions. What I have done is give consideration to how I left my old life behind as I started to follow Jesus. I was entirely dependent on someone else for my provision. If God was not so generous to adopt me, I would still be a refugee in life, searching for a home to give me meaning and peace.

I care about the lives of Americans. I also care about Syrians and Nigerians and Canadians and North Koreans and everyone across every boundary.

I haven't always felt this way. It was only about 7 years ago that I realized I was valuing policy and politics and my own opinions more than people. 7 years from now, I hope I have other areas of my life where I would vehemently disagree with myself today.

Unless I've reached perfection (spoiler alert: I haven't), change always needs to be present in my life.

This is an area where I think I've grown closer to God in my views. Let me be clear: I'm not talking about political views. I have made every effort to leave those behind.

I don't care what party supports what idea. I choose to be on the side of people.

I understand that ISIS will try to use refugee streams to reach into other countries. I hate it. It's heinous. I pray for ISIS because Jesus says to pray for our enemies.

I'm not suggesting that we let anyone show up as a refugee who wants to show up. I fully support the government running checks and taking precautions. Currently, a refugee seeking to come to the United States from Syria must go through five separate government checks which can take up to 2 years.

But in the midst of all of that, I will not turn a blind eye to the suffering of families who are trying to keep their loved ones alive by fleeing desperately and relying on the generosity and mercy of other peoples.

I understand that American politicians are expected to keep Americans safe. I don't begrudge them that.

I will say that if this was a movie, here is where the 'what makes America great is that we don't compromise our values in the face of danger or harm' speech would occur, like in the recent Bridge of Spies where Tom Hanks' character defends a Russian spy with more rigor that anybody expects (or wants).

But my identity as a member of the ageless, borderless Body of Christ gives me a different set of values that I can not ignore.

I must follow in the footsteps of Jesus and Peter and Paul in offering acceptance to those who are 'not like me' in some way.

So I for one, hope that we respond to the tragedy in France with bold charity and generosity and not out of anger or fear.