Are refugees controversial?

Recently, a fellow youth worker was brainstorming a list of topics to include in a series on controversial issues. At the top of his list was “Refugees.”

His response left me flabbergasted.

There are a lot of topics that could rightfully be included in a list of controversial issues.

I'm pretty sure “refugees” isn't one of them.

Sure, refugees are controversial in our country right now.

But when it comes to Scripture, refugees aren't controversial at all.

Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

I suspect one of the people groups God had in mind when he talked about “aliens” might just have been refugees.

And if refugees are, in fact, aliens, then Scripture seems clear we shouldn't oppress them. If we're to “love the alien as ourselves”, then it also seems pretty clear that we should welcome them into our country and give them a place where they're free from the danger and persecution that drove them from their home in the first place.

Now, lest you be tempted to disregard this passage because it's from Leviticus and let's be honest, many of us take what's written there with a grain of salt, let me remind you: Jesus was a refugee.

By definition, a refugee is someone who's forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.

Jesus (and his family) certainly did that when they fled Bethlehem in order to escape King Herod's slaughter of the innocents – that time when Herod ordered all children two or under to be killed.

If Jesus was a refugee himself, then don't you think it'd be a good idea to stop treating refugees as controversial objects and instead start viewing them as people created in the image of a God who was himself a refugee?

Near the end of the Bible, James reminds us that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father is this: To care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Want to know what population includes a lot of orphans and widows?

Refugees.

Scripture seems pretty clear that we're supposed to care for them.

But in case you're still unconvinced, consider Jesus' words about the sheep and the goats and the final judgment. In this passage, Jesus reminds his followers, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.” If Jesus was speaking these words to Americans today, I suspect he'd include an example like this: “I was a refugee and you welcomed me into your country and helped me begin a new life.” Or, “I was a refugee and you did not welcome me or help me begin a new life. Just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

Certainly, there's a lot in the Bible that can be debated.

There's also a lot in the Bible that seems unclear.

How we care for the oppressed – including the widows, orphans, and refugees – isn't one of them.

Throughout Scripture, God is always on the side of the poor and oppressed. Time and time again, from beginning to end, Scripture commands us to care for the aliens, widows, and orphans. In short, it commands us to care for refugees.

Refugees might be a controversial issue in our country right now.

But in light of what Scripture says, refugees certainly shouldn't be a controversial issue in our churches. 

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and the forthcoming A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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