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Stop Prooftexting Refugee Policy With Misapplied Bible Verses


If there is one thing I am grateful to see coming from Donald Trump’s presidency, it has been the progressive left’s sudden renewed interest in applying biblical principles to our country’s moral and ethical dilemmas.

Whether politically motivated or not, it is refreshing to see Hollywood (of all places) express concern over debauchery and indecency. It’s encouraging to witness progressive voices that have long sought to keep discussions over biblical morality confined within church walls now asking society how Jesus would treat foreign refugees. The more we talk about pushing American society closer to God’s character, the better we will all be.

That said, it is important to be wary of those who prefer to selectively apply biblical principles to the great moral issues of our day. If God’s word should inform people how we should think and act relative to the plight of the immigrant or refugee (it should), it should also inform our people how we should think and act relative to race relations, abortion, pornography, and sexuality.

Those who demand scriptural fidelity to some things but not others are likely far more interested in twisting and manipulating the Bible to promote personal political agendas than they are understanding and properly applying biblical values.

We Want to Help Some Vulnerable People, But Not All

For instance, notice the glaring paradox that unfolds when progressive faith leaders on the Left like Al Sharpton remind everyone that, “Jesus was a refugee.” They are referencing the escape of Mary and Joseph to Egypt in the years shortly after Jesus’s birth. Making their case for an open-door refugee policy where the United States government places few restrictions on access to the country and its resources on those fleeing persecution in foreign lands, these progressives correctly note that Mary and Joseph sought refuge in a foreign country to escape King Herod’s mass infanticide decree.

Peculiarly, the very same political movement citing this account of scripture is the same one that has been adamantly demanding for a generation that Jesus’s teachings be stricken from American laws to allow the continued legalization of mass infanticide.

That is not to say that all biblical arguments relative to refugees are as flimsy. Progressive faith leaders often point to the admonition of Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” There’s no question that we are given a direct and unequivocal personal command to be hospitable to those in need. Coupled with the directives Jesus gives us personally in Luke 14 and in the parable of the Good Samaritan, living an inhospitable life lacking in personal compassion is simply irreconcilable with godly, Christian conduct.

It’s fair to assume that is why Christians, individually and collectively, remain the single greatest charitable giving force in the world by far. But on refugee policy we are contemplating more than just personal commands. We must endeavor to determine whether it is biblically sound to apply such individual instructions to the work of civil government.

Different Commands Apply to Different Entities

When famed evangelical Christian leader Franklin Graham articulated one perspective on this question saying, “We have to realize that the president’s job is not the same as the job of the church,” progressive Christian activist Shane Claiborne immediately criticized him. Claiborne tweeted in response: “No. It is theological malpractice to say that the president is exempt from the Sermon on the Mount or not accountable to Christ’s commands.”

But that isn’t what Graham said. He accurately affirmed that while all Christians are held to the same standard of private, personal morality, biblical expectations for ministers are different than those for government leaders. Far from heretical, such an understanding is essential to any logical, consistent reading of scripture.

Imagine the turmoil that would ensue, for instance, if we pretended Jesus’s command not to judge another (Matthew 7:1) applied to American courtrooms. Or consider the calamity if we assumed our instruction to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) was to be the national security policy of our civil government.

Claiborne’s failure to grasp this fairly obvious reality was perplexing until just days later, when he again lashed out at Graham on the issue, this time in a very personal way. After Graham had offered his opinion that we lock our doors at night “Not because you hate the people on the outside, but because you love the people on the inside,” Claiborne compared him to the villains in Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan. He chided, “As the religious folks turned a blind eye, the Samaritan was more concerned about the man in the ditch than himself.”

At this point I realized Claiborne was far less concerned with understanding a biblical approach to refugees than in grandstanding and attacking a fellow Christian publicly. After all, it takes an extraordinary amount of personal animus and tunnel vision to miss that Graham’s ministry literally does the work of the Good Samaritan all over the world, regardless of creed, nationality, or ethnicity.

Minds dedicated to scriptural fidelity will ignore unserious voices such as Claiborne’s and instead work to contextually understand and apply God’s truth. We will ask whether it is responsible to extrapolate the teaching of the book of Hebrews into a command on civil government.

To say that Christians have a duty to care for widows, orphans, the impoverished, and endangered is unquestioned biblical truth. To say such care can only be provided by enacting open-door refugee policies that may or may not compromise the security of citizens (including widows, orphans, and the impoverished here at home) is an entirely different proposition. It’s a proposition that scripture does not appear to support.