Something dangerous is happening in American Christianity – especially the section of American Christianity that calls itself ‘conservative.’
Most people would consider most Christians in America relatively conservative, but what do we mean by this term? Do we mean that Christians are aligned with the Republican party? Do we mean that we are fiscal conservatives? That we find value in tradition? That we accept established systems of belief over what is new and ‘progressive’?
I have a feeling that, most of the time, when we say that a group of people is conservative, it is a reference to a political leaning within the American two-party system. But what if that is not only a misuse of the word, but a co-opting of the conservative ethos by the political and ideological powers that be? My inclination is that Christianity is inherently conservative (we value tradition, the voice of Scripture as the Word of God, and other established truths from historical Christianity as guides for ethical and metaphysical ideals), but that the Republican party has latched itself onto the ‘conservative’ label so as to gain a base of followers without also delineating which of its stances are actually conservative in the Christian sense, and which are American, right-wing, ideological commitments.
What am I getting at here?
Recently, after terrorist attacks in Paris by ISIS, at least 26 different states in the US have announced their opposition to accepting Syrian refugees. All of these states, according to the article, are under Republican governorship. This stance has been expressed under the guise of national security, with the thought that ISIS extremists will use the refugee situation to infiltrate the United States and commit acts of terror on US citizens. (All of this, despite the fact that the US has perhaps the strictest screening policy for admitting Syrian refugees in the world.)
Those who call themselves conservatives in America are often Christian and often Republican. The way we understand our two-party political system forces us to do so, for the most part. Denying political refugees from a country torn apart by violence, I would like to argue, is perhaps not surprisingly Republican. It is, however, not very conservative, and worse, anti-Christian.
By this I mean that conservative, orthodox (those who affirm the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds in their entirety) Christians have no leg to stand on, faith-wise, to deny refugees asylum during times of crisis.
Our faith is informed by and filtered through the lens of the Word of God in Scripture and the Word of God in Christ. Throughout Scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments, God requires Israel (over and over!) to care for sojourners and foreigners, to give them citizenship within the land as need arises, and to integrate them into society. Again and again, God’s reasoning is that the people of Israel were once sojourners in a foreign land. When God gave them land to flourish, God expected his people to use the gift given to them as a blessing to the nations around them. His anger came against them sharply when their desire for security and wealth and prosperity was kept to themselves. There are dozens of biblical references that show this: Deuteronomy 10:14-19, Zechariah 7:4-12, Isaiah 16, and a lot more. They are not difficult to find.
Further, the New Testament gives a host of examples and exhortations regarding hospitality. Christians, in following Jesus, are to care for the oppressed, the poor, the downtrodden, the forsaken. Matthew 25 gives us the clearest, easiest-to-understand command from Jesus on this:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
(Matthew 25:31-40 ESV)
I’m not sure there is a way around this if we want to truly follow and obey Jesus. Other examples include Paul in Romans saying that the mark of the true Christian is “extending hospitality to others” (Romans 12:13). Hebrews 13 also exhorts believers to extend hospitality to strangers.
I will say it again: there is absolutely nothing Christian about denying safety and refuge to foreigners fleeing a crisis. Our national security is a non-issue. Jesus did not say “‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me, except when there was a possibility that a terrorist might infiltrate our ranks and threaten your security.'”
There are no conditions on hospitality in the Christian sense. Do we honestly think that it was less dangerous to be hospitable during the Roman occupation? Do we honestly think that serving and following Jesus does not entail some risk? Our savior died on a cross, for goodness’ sake! Not only that, he doesn’t say that following him will make our lives easier. On the contrary, he warns us that it will be the exact opposite! Sacrifice is not easy. Bearing a cross will be wearisome, burdensome, and will perhaps require our very lives. If that is the cost of being a Christian and following Jesus, then so be it. But do not deny refugees in the name of Christian or conservative values. Doing so devalues Jesus and betrays the Christian faith.
Be conservative. Be faithful to Jesus. Extend hospitality.